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Apr 13, 2018

GE books US$4.2B charge, restates earnings as expected

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NEW YORK - General Electric Co (GE.N) said on Friday it took a US$4.24 billion equity charge and reduced earnings for the last two years by 30 cents U.S. a share, figures in line with expectations the company set earlier this year when it said it would comply with new accounting standards.

The maker of power plants, jet engines, medical devices and other industrial goods had estimated the after-tax, non-cash impact would be about US$4.2 billion, plus reduced earnings for 2016 and 2017 of about 29 cents U.S. a share.

The accounting change prompted GE to recast two years of past financial statements to reflect lower income and asset values under the new standard, and those will be reflected when GEreports first-quarter results on April 20.

The value of GE's contract assets are being written down, but that does not change the value of the long-term contracts GE has, nor does it affect GE's cash flow or earnings estimates for 2018,GE said.

The adjustments appear within expectations, Edward Jones analyst Jeff Windau said. "Now the focus moves to next Friday's earnings."

The figures suggest GE executives have gotten to the bottom of some accounting issues and bolster confidence in Chief Executive Officer John Flannery after a series of financial surprises, including underestimating the impact of insurance policies that prompted a US$6.2 billion charge in the fourth quarter, analysts said.

GE shares were down 1 per cent at US$13.35 in aftermarket trading after rising 2.4 per cent on Friday.

The new accounting standard governs how companies estimate and recognize revenue from long-term contracts, and is designed to make a company's cash flow more closely match its income, accounting experts and analysts said.

The prior standard allowed companies to recognize future revenue from such agreements more quickly. The new standard shifts revenue to later in the contract duration, analysts said.

Companies typically use the cost of providing services as a basis for estimating future revenue from the contracts, but the process can lead to over- or under-estimating the value of the contracts as assets on the balance sheet, experts say.

GE's contract asset tally has soared 70 per cent to US$28.8 billion in 2017, from US$16.9 billion in 2014, most of it in its power and aviation units. The majority of the total reflects revenue GE has already booked but for which it has not billed customers, which creates the gap between profit and cash flow, according to GE's regulatory filings.

GE also made adjustments for new accounting standards for pensions, cash flow and taxes on Friday.

GE's accounting is under scrutiny after earnings swung to a loss last year and GE said its 2018 results would be at the low end of its forecasted range of between US$1.00 and US$1.07 a share.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is looking into GE's accounting for contract assets, raising investor concern but GE has said it is not overly concerned about the investigation.

GE said in February that it expects to make the adjustments as it switches to the new accounting standards for contracts.

GE said it chose to restate 2016 and 2017 earnings, a more exacting standard under the new rules, because it will allow investors to compare 2018 results with the prior years.