por Lynn Shapiro
, Writer | February 09, 2009
GE chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt has made good on his promise to maintain the company's generous dividend, despite Wall Street fears that if he continues to do so, the rating firms of Moody's and S&P might downgrade the company's Triple A debt rating.
On Jan 13, Moody's Investors Service lowered its outlook for GE to negative from stable, following a move from S&P in December. Immelt maintains that the company has the cash flow to pay its shareholders handsomely throughout this year.
While most people think of GE as an industrial company, GE is one of the largest diversified financial companies in the US (and falls under the category of diversified financials). It is bigger than Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. As a large loaner of every kind of product, GE Capital is shrinking--not growing--due to the global credit freeze.
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Still, Immelt said on February 6, that its board of directors has authorized a regular quarterly dividend of $0.31 per outstanding share of the company's common stock. The dividend is payable April 27, 2009, to shareowners of record at the close of business on February 23, 2009. This dividend payment will complete the dividend for the first half of 2009.
Immelt said, "The board and I believe that it is in the best interests of the company's shareowners to continue to pay an attractive dividend. The board and I will continue to evaluate the company's dividend level for the second half of 2009. In light of the growing uncertainty in the economy, including U.S. government actions and rising unemployment, our fundamental priorities will remain keeping the company safe and secure in the current environment and investing in attractive growth opportunities."
Immelt added, "GE has taken steps to strengthen its liquidity position, including reducing GE Capital Services' commercial paper from $88 billion in third quarter '08 to $60 billion today. GE also has raised 64 percent of its long-term funding for 2009. The company has $48 billion in cash on hand.