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General Electric Company

  CASE CAPTION Sjunde AP-Fonden, et al., v. General Electric Company, et al.
  COURT United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
  CASE NUMBER 1:17-cv-08457-JMF
  JUDGE Honorable Jesse M. Furman
  PLAINTIFF  Sjunde AP-Fonden and The Cleveland Bakers and Teamsters Pension Fund
  DEFENDANTS General Electric Company and Jeffrey S. Bornstein
  CLASS PERIOD March 2, 2015 through January 23, 2018, inclusive

This securities fraud class action case arises out of alleged misrepresentations made by General Electric (“GE”) and its former Chief Financial Officer, Jeffrey S. Bornstein (together, “Defendants”), regarding the use of factoring to conceal cash flow problems that existed within GE Power between March 2, 2015, and January 24, 2018 (the “Class Period”).

GE Power is the largest business in GE’s Industrials operating segment. The segment constructs and sells power plants, generators, and turbines, and also services such assets through long term service agreements (“LTSAs”). In the years leading up to the Class Period, as global demand for traditional power waned, so too did GE’s sales of gas turbines and its customer’s utilization of existing GE-serviced equipment.  These declines drove down GE Power’s earnings under its LTSAs associated with that equipment.  This was because GE could only collect cash from customers when certain utilization levels were achieved or upon some occurrence within the LTSA, such as significant service work.

Plaintiffs allege that in an attempt to make up for these lost earnings, GE modified existing LTSAs to increase its profit margin and then utilized an accounting technique known as a “cumulative catch-up adjustment” to book immediate profits based on that higher margin.  In most instances, GE recorded those cumulative catch-up earnings on its income statement long before it could actually invoice customers and collect cash under those agreements. This contributed to a growing gap between GE’s recorded non-cash revenues (or “Contract Assets”) and its industrial cash flows from operating activities (“Industrial CFOA”).  

In order to conceal this increasing disparity, Plaintiffs allege that GE increased its reliance on receivables factoring (i.e., selling future receivables, including on LTSAs, to GE Capital or third parties for immediate cash).  Through factoring, GE pulled forward future cash flows and, in light of the steep concessions it often agreed to in order to factor a receivable, traded away future revenues for immediate cash.  In stark contrast to the true state of affairs within GE Power—and in violation of Item 303 of Regulation S-K—GE’s Class Period financial statements did not disclose material facts regarding GE’s factoring practices, the true extent of the cash flow problems that GE was attempting to conceal through receivables factoring, or the risks associated with GE’s reliance on factoring.  Rather, Defendants affirmatively misled investors about the purpose of the Company’s factoring practices, claiming that such practices were aimed at managing credit risk, not liquidity

Eventually, however, GE could no longer rely on this unsustainable practice to conceal its weak Industrial cash flows.  As the truth was gradually revealed to investors—in the form of, among other things, disclosures of poor Industrial cash flows, massive reductions in Industrial CFOA guidance, and a dividend cut that was attributable in part to weaker-than-expected Industrial cash flows—GE’s stock price plummeted, causing substantial harm to Plaintiffs and the Class. 

In January 2021, the Court sustained Plaintiffs’ claims based on allegations that GE failed to disclose material facts relating its practice of and reliance on factoring, in violation of Item 303, and affirmatively misled investors about the purpose of GE’s factoring practices.  Fact discovery in the case is ongoing and is currently scheduled to conclude in February 2022.