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Analysts like GE selling appliance operations

/ Source: The Associated Press

With consumers strapped and financing tight, it makes sense for General Electric Co. to sell its 101-year-old appliance business, although it may not fetch the best price, analysts said Thursday.

GE is not commenting on news reports that it plans to auction off its Louisville, Ky.-based business that makes refrigerators, air conditioners and ovens. The possible sale was reported Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal.

Analyst Nicholas Heymann of Sterne Agee said in an investor note that such a deal should not be a surprise. Sales in the appliance business, which posted revenue of $7 billion last year, are likely to decline between 10 percent and 12 percent this year due to weak consumer spending and a drop in home improvement sales and residential construction.

"It's not going to bounce back tomorrow," he said in an interview. "A $600 rebate check is not going to buy a $5,000 appliance."

Matt Collins, an analyst at Edward Jones in St. Louis, said selling the business makes sense even if it would be too late. The sharp drop in the housing market now makes an appliance manufacturer less attractive.

"It's a move in the right direction," he said. "The best time to sell it was two years ago. Unfortunately, it didn't happen then."

Collins said GE, which entered the appliance business in 1907, did not invest heavily in the appliance business.

"It's a low-margin low-growth company being attacked by foreign competition," he said.

GE's appliance business is also probably hurting because a portion of its business is based on consumer credit, which is being squeezed hard, said Peter Sorrentino, senior portfolio manager at Huntington Asset Advisors in Cincinnati.

And GE officials must ask themselves if a selling price of up to $8 billion is meaningful, he said.

"If not, why do it?" Sorrentino asked. "If you put money into being competitive, why not wait until an upswing and get rid of it then?"

GE's revenue last year totaled nearly $173 billion.

Heymann said he believes GE could sell the business for between $6.3 billion and $6.5 billion, a little more than half what it got last year for the sale of its plastics business to a Saudi Arabian company.

To boost its share price, GE wants to dump less profitable operations to boost its infrastructure business, a money-maker that manufactures big-ticket products such as jet engines, locomotives and water treatment plants, he said.

The company's overall headquarters is based in Fairfield, Connecticut.

Heymann also said GE should get rid of NBC-Universal, which he said is suffering from a loss in income to the Internet and software.

( is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC-Universal.)

Chief Executive Jeff Immelt has rejected calls to sell NBC, though he has been under pressure to restructure the industrial and financial conglomerate, particularly since first quarter profit fell 6 percent.

Immelt has brushed off questions about whether GE will ditch various businesses. He said shortly after the earnings report last month that GE has sold businesses valued at between $50 billion and $60 billion in the last five or six years, a phase he called the "most active portfolio change in the history of the company."