GE talks up $30bn war chest

 
City A.M. Reporter
GENERAL?ELECTRIC could spend up to $30bn (£19bn) on acquisitions over the next two to three years while continuing to raise its dividend and buy back shares, a top official said yesterday.

But John Rice, a vice chairman of the largest US conglomerate, cautioned that “$30bn-ish” figure is not a commitment to spending.

“That doesn’t mean that we’ll spend that money; it doesn’t mean that we won’t do more with the dividend or with the buyback,” Rice, who heads the company’s technology infrastructure unit, told investors.

“If we were to conclude that there aren’t the deals out there that make sense, we might do less than that. We’re not going to chase bad deals just so that we can say we spent ‘X’ billion on M&A,” he said.

Executives at GE, who spent much of the past few years jealously guarding the company’s cash as it rode out a brutal downturn that shook its hefty finance arm, have changed their tone since the company broke a nine-quarter streak of profit declines in the second quarter.

The world’s largest maker of jet engines and electric turbines said in July that it would raise its dividend -- which it had slashed during the recession -- by 20 per cent starting in the third quarter, a move that came earlier than Wall Street had expected.

It also said it would resume buying back its shares, a practice it had suspended in September 2008. The board has authorised it to buy back up to $11.6bn in shares.