General Electric: Shaping up, slimming down
With General Electric’s shares in the doldrums and shareholders demanding action, GE last week announced one of the biggest reorganizations in its 130-year history, said Stephen Singer in the Associated Press. The company will simplify its corporate structure, grouping its businesses into four main categories—energy, high technology, media, and finance. The formerly freestanding industrial and health-care divisions will be folded into the technology and energy units. The reshuffling “follows GE’s recent plan to consider spinning off its iconic lighting and appliance businesses.”
With this reorganization, CEO Jeffrey Immelt is sending a clear signal about GE’s future, said Jena McGregor in BusinessWeek.com. “By elevating energy to a separate unit, Immelt is saying a lot about the company’s commitment to this fast-growing area.” The move also has the effect of de-emphasizing financial services, which have fallen out of favor with investors. But at the same time, Immelt is courting controversy by designating NBC Universal as a “core business.” Many investors have been “calling for GE to shed the peacock.”
Banking: New legal woes for UBS
Weeks after a senior UBS executive pleaded guilty to tax fraud, the Swiss banking giant has new legal woes, said Christopher Twarowski in The Washington Post. New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo last week sued UBS, alleging that it “marketed billions of dollars in unconventional bonds to investors around the country while improperly claiming they were as safe and liquid as cash.” Investors have been unable to sell the bonds because UBS and other banks won’t bid on them. UBS said it would “vigorously defend” itself against the suit.
Private equity: KKR backs into an IPO
A year after announcing it planned to sell its shares to the public, private-equity pioneer KKR has finally figured out how, said Dennis K. Berman and Peter Lattman in The Wall Street Journal. In a complex transaction, KKR will swap its own shares for those of its “struggling” European affiliate, which is traded in Amsterdam. The deal will put 21 percent of KKR in public hands and value the entire company at $12 billion to $15 billion. KKR executives will retain 79 percent of the company.
Cars: Chrysler exits the leasing business
Chrysler last week said it would stop offering automobile leases, “underlining growing strains in the U.S. car finance market,” said Bernard Simon and Nicole Bullock in the Financial Times. Ordinarily, when a car lease expires, the company financing the lease can make a tidy profit by auctioning off the car. But with prices for used SUVs and other low-gas-mileage vehicles plunging, leasing is no longer such a profitable proposition. “The economic environment that made leasing attractive 15 to 20 years ago has changed,” said Chrysler Vice Chairman Jim Press.
Internet search: Google gets a new rival
A start-up called Cuil is mounting a challenge to Google’s dominance of the Internet search business, said Michael Liedtke in the Associated Press. Processing its first search requests this week, Cuil (pronounced “cool”) claims to search more Internet pages than Google does, while presenting results in a more usable form. “Cuil is hoping to attract traffic by promising not to retain information about its users’ search histories or surfing patterns—something that Google does, much to the consternation of privacy watchdogs.”