Blue Chip Gone Bad

In the not too distant past, General Electric was one of the most valuable companies in the world.  GE was the bluest of the blue chips, the maker of light bulbs and everyday appliances, a company so solid and trusted and reliable that it was a standard holding for retirees who bought it because it paid an old-fashioned quarterly dividend.

ge-led-bulbs-led11da19-870-h-64_1000Now, GE’s stock price has plummeted to less than $10 per share, its its renowned quarterly dividend has been reduced to a penny per share, and there’s actually talk on Wall Street that GE debt — which is now rated at BBB — could be reduced to junk bond status.

What happened? Many things have contributed to GE’s abrupt fall.  The company has a lot of debt, some of it generated back when GE had a AAA rating.  The debt has put GE into an increasingly leveraged position as the company’s stock price has fallen, which in turn has put pressure on the trading price of GE bonds.  The company’s lines of business have experienced some down years, and prior management was viewed as too slow to respond to the challenges facing the company.  To address the problem, GE has shifted to new management, which is trying to sell off assets to improve the company’s capital structure, boost the stock price, and keep the company off the junk heap.  And, as GE sheds assets, new management will have to figure out what the company is and where it is going, long term.  GE can no longer get by on its reputation.

GE’s current plight is another example of how the American economy moves quickly, and if companies don’t move with it they can be left behind.  As recently as 2005, GE’s stock market price made it the most valuable company in America.  Now, it’s fighting for survival.  And in boardrooms throughout the corporate world, CEOs should considering this cautionary tale and asking themselves:  “What should I do to keep my company from becoming the next GE?”

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When Taxpayers Hit The Road

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting piece on Connecticut — the state which for some time has had the highest per capita income of any state in the union.  Now Connecticut is running into problems with its budget.  The problem?  It has jacked up taxes to the point that its biggest taxpayers, both corporations and individuals, have decided that it just makes sense to move.

leaving-connecticut-1170x514Aetna, a Connecticut institution since 1853 and one of the state’s largest employers, announced this week that it is moving.  General Electric has fled to Boston.  In May the state reduced its two-year revenue forecast by nearly $1.5 billion and has projected a 6 percent drop in income-tax revenue for 2017 and 2018.  Income-tax collections declined this year due to lower earnings at the top, as many high earners have moved to lower tax states.  Sales-tax revenue is forecast to fall by 9 percent, corporate-tax revenue is estimated to drop by 7 percent, and state pension contributions, which have doubled since 2010, will increase by a third over the next two years.  This confluence of bad news leaves Connecticut with a $5.1 billion deficit and three recent credit downgrades.

Is it a coincidence that all of that has happened after Connecticut raised its top individual income tax rate, payable by those who earn more than $500,000 a year, from 5% to 6.99%?  Is it a coincidence that, in the last five years, 27,400 residents have moved to no-income-tax Florida?  Their departures have depressed economic growth in Connecticut and, since high earners also tend to be high spenders, has also depressed home values and sales-tax revenues.

And here’s the kicker:  Connecticut is talking about issuing “revenue bonds,” backed by its shrinking income tax revenues, to try to reduce its borrowing costs and close its budget deficit.  In case you’re interested, that’s something Puerto Rico tried, too — and look where Puerto Rico ended up.

It’s a pretty simple lesson:  while people may not always be rational economic actors, if states keep raising taxes and taking large chunks of your income year after year, at some point taxpayers are going to go to a place where they get to hold on to more of what they earn.  Connecticut is now learning that lesson the hard way, and no-tax states, like Florida, are reaping the benefits.

Wrong Turn ?

Check out this excellent article I read a couple of weeks ago in the New York Times about corporate taxes. After reading the article it left me shaking my head wondering when things went astray.

A CEO begging for tax shelters crucial to the company bottom line, employees urged to divide their time evenly between ensuring compliance with the law and looking to exploit opportunities to reduce the taxes the company pays, company lawyers and lobbyists involved in rewriting portions of the corporate tax code and the list goes on and on.

I bet hearing about this type of thing would be frustrating to our president. It will take a monumental effort to get things back on the right track if it isn’t already too late !