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通用电气困局难解,崩溃是最佳结局

GEOFF COLVIN 2018年01月26日

通用电气没有理由继续以现在的形式存在下去,公司的各项业务应当获得解放。

带着2017年的惨淡低迷,通用电气(General Electric)迈入了2018年。本周三,公司发布了第四季度财报,结果低于分析师预期。以下是凄凉的细节:调整后每股收益0.27美元,低于华尔街预期的0.29美元;收入314亿美元,低于预期值340亿美元。这些数字,来自一家曾因为业绩从未低于华尔街预期而闻名的公司。通用电气是道琼斯去年表现最差的股票,而公司股价还在2018年持续下跌。

不过,通用电气的崩溃对公司而言可能是最好的情况。它可以迫使管理层提出一个长期以来难以启齿的建议:公司解体。事实上,它早就应该解体了。如今情况十分糟糕,除此之外很难有其他办法来大幅改善这种一团乱麻的境况。

通用电气的问题是简单而全局性的。这是一家典型的糟糕的综合企业。他们向综合企业的转型始于二战之后,公司业务拓展到了与电力不相干,彼此之间也没有关联的领域——导弹、计算机、卫星、采煤等等。综合企业在20世纪60年代风靡一时,但由于他们的表现往往低于市场水平,国际电话电报公司(ITT)、Litton、LTV等大部分综合企业最终解体了。只是其中不包括通用电气。20世纪70年代是股市惨淡的十年,而通用电气的情况甚至比股市平均水平还要糟糕,公司解体的呼声日益高涨。

随后事情出现了转机。1981年,杰克·韦尔奇出任公司的首席执行官,在他20年的任期中,公司的表现远超市场水平,讨论拆分的声音渐渐停歇了。没错,那段时期是历史上数一数二的牛市。但通用电气的股价还要出彩得多。之后,韦尔奇卸任,公司又回到了拖市场后腿的状态,再一次暴露出了糟糕综合企业的本性。

通用电气的表现有多糟糕?如果你在1945年向标普500指数(S&P 500)投资了100美元,如今你将拥有245,738美元。不过如果你向通用电气投资了100美元,加上股息在内,你拥有的也只有144,478美元,这甚至还包括了韦尔奇掌舵时期公司股价飞涨的那一部分。去掉那部分呢?如果通用电气在韦尔奇任期中,股价涨幅只有标普500指数的平均水平(这仍然优于二战后公司在韦尔奇之前和之后的首席执行官管理下的表现),那你的投资只值43,098美元。

没错,不是所有的综合企业都表现糟糕。最强大的反例是伯克希尔·哈撒韦公司(Berkshire Hathaway)。沃伦·巴非特高兴地称它为“杂乱延伸的综合企业”。不过这没什么说服力。我们最终得出的结论似乎是,拥有巴菲特或韦尔奇这种天才首席执行官的综合企业可以有优异的表现。但不幸的是,需要天才首席执行官坐镇的战略,不是一种可持续发展的战略。

一些分析师认为通用电气的业务在财务上过于纠缠不清,把它们分开的代价恐怕高于带来的价值。不过这种分析忽视了拆分公司释放的企业能量。把通用电气拆分成喷气发动机、能源系统和医疗行业的三家公司,肯定是一次赌博。但是在公司股价低迷,管理层没有明确的复苏计划的当下,是时候面对现实了。通用电气没有理由继续以现在的形式存在下去,公司的各项业务应当获得解放。(财富中文网)

译者:严匡正 

The Great General Electric Debacle of 2017 continued into 2018 as the company on Wednesday reported fourth-quarter earnings that fell short of analysts’ expectations. The dismal details: earnings per share of $0.27 net of special charges vs. a Wall Street estimate of $0.29; revenue of $31.4 billion vs. an estimate of $34 billion. This from a company once famed for never, ever missing Wall Street earnings estimates. GE was the worst performing stock in the Dow last year, and it has continued to fall in 2018.

Yet GE’s meltdown may be the best thing that could have happened to the company. That’s because it has forced management to propose a long-unutterable possibility: that GE could be broken up. In truth it should have been broken up long ago. Now things are so bad that it’s hard to see a significant improvement of this sorry mess otherwise.

The trouble with GE is simple and systemic. It’s a typical crummy conglomerate. Its transformation into a conglomerate began after World War II, when it expanded into businesses unrelated to electricity or each other—missiles, computers, satellites, coal mining, and many others. Conglomerates were all the rage in the 1960s, but as they reliably underperformed the market, most of them, such as ITT, Litton, and LTV, got taken apart. Not GE. The 1970s were a dismal decade for stocks, yet GE did even worse than the market, amplifying cries to bust up this company.

Then something happened. In 1981 Jack Welch became CEO, and during his 20-year tenure the company outperformed the market so spectacularly that talk of a breakup faded away. Yes, he ran the place during a historically great bull market. But GE performed much, much better than the market. Then, after he stepped down, GE reverted to its usual market-trailing performance. It again revealed its true character as a crummy conglomerate.

How crummy? If you had invested $100 in the S&P 500 in 1945, you’d have $245,738 today. But if you’d invested $100 in GE, you’d have only $144,478 including dividends, even with the rocket boost to the stock contributed by Welch. And without that boost? If GE had merely matched the S&P 500 during his tenure, which would still have beaten GE’s average performance under the post-war CEOs before and after him, then you’d have only $43,098.

It’s true that not all conglomerates perform terribly. The strongest counterexample is Berkshire Hathaway, which Warren Buffett happily calls “a sprawling conglomerate.” But this proves little. The lesson seems to be that a conglomerate with a genius CEO like Buffett or Welch can perform terrifically. Unfortunately, a strategy that requires a genius CEO is not a sustainable strategy.

Some analysts argue that GE’s businesses are so entangled financially that separating them would cost more than it’s worth. That analysis fails to value the entrepreneurial energy that can get unleashed in a breakup. Separating GE into three companies—jet engines, power systems, health care—would be a gamble for sure. But with the stock in a hole and management offering no clear plan for recovery, it’s finally time to face reality. GE has no reason for existing in its present form. Its component businesses should be set free.

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