Are big changes in store for General Electric and its NBC/Universal unit? Not if you listen to the GE brass who have eagerly supported the division in recent weeks. But that hasn't stopped many on Wall Street from predicting an eventual parting of the ways — here's why:
General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt has been quick (perhaps too quick) of late to dispel reports that he might sell or spin-off his struggling NBC/Universal unit, if its lackluster performance doesn't show some patina in the next couple of years. "That was more or less stupid drivel," said Immelt at Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center last Wednesday, at a meeting celebrating the elevation of Jeff Zucker as chief peacock of the media division.
Drivel, perhaps. But a close inspection of Immelt's actions, rather than his words, reveals a nimble manager of the world's greatest collection of businesses — a man who doesn't mind shuffling his portfolio to suit the times. In fact, in just the last few months alone, Immelt has shelled out nearly $15 billion for new acquisitions, while at the same time announcing plans to jettison some of GE's signature businesses, including plastics.
Is it any wonder that with a purported value of nearly $40 billion, there are suggestions Immelt would shed slow-growing NBC if he finds a better place to put GE's money?
And why not? For all the negative ink generated by the unit, NBC/Universal remains a fairly insignificant part of GE's overall profit picture, accounting for about 13 percent of its net income — and falling in recent years. If re-insurance, advanced materials and plastics didn't make the cut under Immelt, why should NBC be spared?
In fact, while Immelt clearly needs to keep morale high at 30 Rock no matter the game plan, the sale of NBC might be just the tonic for GE's moribund stock which has been in the basement of Dow performers for years.
Of course, NBC is a glamourous, sexy business, but Immelt doesn't seem to enjoy the limelight the way his predecessor Jack Welch or his current network colleagues do. No, in many ways Immelt is the antithesis of the over-hyped, over-paid CEO of 2007.
In a world where conglomerates are wildly out of favor, Immelt is remaking, rather than dismantling the world's most valuable conglomerate. Along the way, Immelt is making huge strides toward creating real, not make-believe synergies. So far it is a work in progress — but one that will pay huge dividends if it truly works.
Yes, GE went out of its way this week to show that the peacock network is safely in its nest. Protests aside — a closer examination of the Jeff Immelt makeover of Mother GE suggest NBC may eventually fly the coop.
Terry Keenan is anchor of Cashin’ In and is a FOX News Channel business correspondent. Tune in to Cashin' In on Saturdays at 11:30am and find out what you need to know to make your money grow and keep what you already have!