Shareholder sues GE after ‘unacceptable’ results hurt stock

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Two weeks after General Electric Co’s <GE.N> new chief executive vowed to shed $20 billion of assets, a shareholder has sued the company for failing to divulge its problems sooner and posting quarterly results that were “unacceptable, to say the least.”

In a proposed class-action lawsuit filed Wednesday night in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Jihad Hachem accused GE of securities fraud for concealing how falling demand, excess inventory and higher costs would cause it fall far short of its 2017 profit forecast, and led to an inflated stock price.

GE’s market value slid $11 billion in the two trading days after the Boston-based company on Oct. 20 reported a third-quarter profit of 29 cents per share, below the 49 cents expected by analysts, and cut its 2017 profit forecast by one-third.

Several analysts shortly thereafter cut their ratings or share price targets for GE.

Other defendants include Chief Executive John Flannery, his predecessor Jeffrey Immelt, and former Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Bornstein, who left that position this week.

“The complaint appears to focus on projections conveyed during earnings calls, which by definition, were forward-looking statements,” GE spokeswoman Jennifer Friedman said in an email. “We intend to vigorously defend against these claims.”

Shareholders have long been frustrated by GE, a maker of power plants, jet engines, medical devices and other industrial equipment and a member of the Dow Jones Industrial Average <.DJI>.

Through Wednesday, GE’s share price had fallen 51 percent in the 16 years since Jack Welch, who oversaw much of its growth, passed the CEO baton to Immelt. Investors who reinvested dividends suffered a roughly 19 percent negative total return.

In contrast, the Standard & Poor’s 500 <.SPX> rose about 133 percent over that time period.

Though Immelt had shed some units, Flannery said GE must now focus on its more promising businesses, and hold managers accountable for poor performance.

Flannery, a 30-year GE veteran who took over on Aug. 1, has made some early, symbolic cuts, including executive perks and the use of corporate jets.

In his complaint, Hachem accused the defendants of having from July 21 to Oct. 20, made materially false and misleading statements about its business in public statements and filings, and knew that doing so would mislead investors.

Hachem is represented by the law firms Glancy Prongay & Murray and Kirby McInerney and is seeking unspecified damages.

Securities fraud class actions have become more plentiful in federal courts after recent rulings in Delaware state courts dissuaded some plaintiffs from suing there.

Cornerstone Research said 226 such class actions were filed from January to June – the most since it began tracking filings in 1996. Most involve smaller declines in market value and less familiar companies than GE.

The case is Hachem v General Electric Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 17-08457.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York, additional reporting by Dan Burns, editing by G Crosse)