TEN MOST RELIABLE CARS

April 4, 2018


Conservative design principles may be the key to building a more reliable automobile, say engineers from Consumer Reports who studied vehicle reliability for their 2018 auto issue.  Nine of the ten vehicles receiving “much better than average” overall scores in every available year of the survey were either from Toyota or Lexus.  The only exception was the Acura TSX mid-sized sedan, which received a perfect score in every model year from 2010 to 2014. This probably does not surprise anyone.

Let’s take a look at what Consumer Reports considers the ten most reliable models.

CONCLUSION:

Consumer Reports’ ratings of vehicle reliability are based on survey responses from more than half a million vehicle owners. The surveys ask questions about 17 different potential trouble spots, ranging from engines and transmissions to fuel systems, electrical, suspension, brakes, body hardware, and in-car electronics, among others.

In the ratings, the Camry received “much better than average” ratings (the magazine’s highest score) for in-car electronics in four of the last eight model years on the Consumer Reports survey. It also received perfect scores in all eight years for three engine categories and two transmission categories.

Toyota’s conservative approach does have a downside, however, Fisher added. The company’s vehicles are often dinged by automotive writers for being “dowdy,” or just plain lacking in excitement, he said. “Other manufacturers are willing to take risks for the sake of a performance increase, or for fuel economy boost, or for excitement and drive-ability,” he said. “And those manufacturers continue to get accolades from their peers. However, I would argue that none of those accolades consider reliability.”

OKAY—what are you after? Bells and whistles or a reliable vehicle to get you to and from work?

 

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One source for this post is Forbes Magazine article, ” U.S. Dependence on Foreign Oil Hits 30-Year Low”, by Mr. Mike Patton.  Other sources were obviously used.

The United States is at this point in time “energy independent”—for the most part.   Do you remember the ‘70s and how, at times, it was extremely difficult to buy gasoline?  If you were driving during the 1970s, you certainly must remember waiting in line for an hour or more just to put gas in the ol’ car? Thanks to the OPEC oil embargo, petroleum was in short supply. At that time, America’s need for crude oil was soaring while U.S. production was falling. As a result, the U.S. was becoming increasingly dependent on foreign suppliers. Things have changed a great deal since then. Beginning in the mid-2000s, America’s dependence on foreign oil began to decline.  One of the reasons for this decline is the abundance of natural gas or methane existent in the US.

“At the rate of U.S. dry natural gas consumption in 2015 of about 27.3 Tcf (trillion cubic feet) per year, the United States has enough natural gas to last about 86 years. The actual number of years will depend on the amount of natural gas consumed each year, natural gas imports and exports, and additions to natural gas reserves. Jul 25, 2017”

For most of the one hundred and fifty (150) years of U.S. oil and gas production, natural gas has played second fiddle to oil. That appeared to change in the mid-2000s, when natural gas became the star of the shale revolution, and eight of every 10 rigs were chasing gas targets.

But natural gas turned out to be a shooting star. Thanks to the industry’s incredible success in leveraging game-changing technology to commercialize ultralow-permeability reservoirs, the market was looking at a supply glut by 2010, with prices below producer break-even values in many dry gas shale plays.

Everyone knows what happened next. The shale revolution quickly transitioned to crude oil production, and eight of every ten (10) rigs suddenly were drilling liquids. What many in the industry did not realize initially, however, is that tight oil and natural gas liquids plays would yield substantial associated gas volumes. With ongoing, dramatic per-well productivity increases in shale plays, and associated dry gas flowing from liquids resource plays, the beat just keeps going with respect to growth in oil, NGL and natural gas supplies in the United States.

Today’s market conditions certainly are not what had once been envisioned for clean, affordable and reliable natural gas. But producers can rest assured that vision of a vibrant, growing and stable market will become a reality; it just will take more time to materialize. There is no doubt that significant demand growth is coming, driven by increased consumption in industrial plants and natural gas-fired power generation, as well as exports, including growing pipeline exports to Mexico and overseas shipments of liquefied natural gas.

Just over the horizon, the natural gas star is poised to again shine brightly. But in the interim, what happens to the supply/demand equation? This is a critically important question for natural gas producers, midstream companies and end-users alike.

Natural gas production in the lower-48 states has increased from less than fifty (50) billion cubic feet a day (Bcf/d) in 2005 to about 70 Bcf/d today. This is an increase of forty (40%) percent over nine years, or a compound annual growth rate of about four (4%) percent. There is no indication that this rate of increase is slowing. In fact, with continuing improvements in drilling efficiency and effectiveness, natural gas production is forecast to reach almost ninety (90) Bcf/d by 2020, representing another twenty-nine (29%) percent increase over 2014 output.

Most of this production growth is concentrated in a few extremely prolific producing regions. Four of these are in a fairway that runs from the Texas Gulf Coast to North Dakota through the middle section of the country, and encompasses the Eagle Ford, the Permian Basin, the Granite Wash, the SouthCentral Oklahoma Oil Play and other basins in Oklahoma, and the Williston Basin. The other major producing region is the Marcellus and Utica shales in the Northeast. Almost all the natural gas supply growth is coming from these regions.

We are at the point where this abundance can allow US companies to export LNG or liquified natural gas.   To move this cleaner-burning fuel across oceans, natural gas must be converted into liquefied natural gas (LNG), a process called liquefaction. LNG is natural gas that has been cooled to –260° F (–162° C), changing it from a gas into a liquid that is 1/600th of its original volume.  This would be the same requirement for Dayton.  The methane gas captured would need to be liquified and stored.  This is accomplished by transporting in a vessel similar to the one shown below:

As you might expect, a vessel such as this requires very specific designs relative to the containment area.  A cut-a-way is given below to indicate just how exacting that design must be to accomplish, without mishap, the transportation of LNG to other areas of the world.

Loading LNG from storage to the vessel is no easy manner either and requires another significant expenditure of capital.

For this reason, LNG facilities over the world are somewhat limited in number.  The map below will indicate their location.

A typical LNG station, both process and loading may be seen below.  This one is in Darwin.

CONCLUSIONS:

With natural gas being in great supply, there will follow increasing demand over the world for this precious commodity.  We already see automobiles using LNG instead of gasoline as primary fuel.  Also, the cost of LNG is significantly less than gasoline even with average prices over the US being around $2.00 +++ dollars per gallon.  According to AAA, the national average for regular, unleaded gasoline has fallen for thirty-five (35) out of thirty-six (36) days to $2.21 per gallon and sits at the lowest mark for this time of year since 2004. Gas prices continue to drop in most parts of the country due to abundant fuel supplies and declining crude oil costs. Average prices are about fifty-five (55) cents less than a year ago, which is motivating millions of Americans to take advantage of cheap gas by taking long road trips this summer.

I think the bottom line is: natural gas is here to stay.

WORLD’S RICHEST

December 29, 2017


OK, it is once again time to make those New Year’s resolutions.  Health, finances, weight loss, quit smoking, cut out sugar, daily exercise, etc. You get the drill.   All of those resolutions we get tired of and basically forget by the end of February.  If you had all the money in the world, as some do, you might not even make resolutions.  You might sit back and watch it roll in.  Let’s take a quick look.

According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, 2017 proved to be an outstanding year for the world’s richest people, watching their net worth rise 23 percent from $4.4 trillion in 2016 to $5.3 trillion by the end of trading on Tuesday, December 26.

The following graph will indicate the progress of the world’s richest through the 2017 year.  As you can see, the world’s richest individuals added a very cool one trillion dollars ($1 trillion USD) to their individual wealth.  Now that’s the entire group of richest people but even that’s a huge sum of “dinero”.

Take a look at these duds below.  Do you know who they are?  I’m going to let you ponder this over the weekend but they all “look familiar” and they are all very very wealthy.

WINNERS:

  • The U.S. has the largest presence on the index, with 159 billionaires. They added $315 billion, an eighteen (18%) percent gain that gives them a collective net worth of $2 trillion.
  • Russia’s twenty-seven (27) richest people put behind them the economic pain that followed President Vladimir Putin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, adding $29 billion to $275 billion, surpassing the collective net worth they had before western economic sanctions began.
  • It was also a banner year for tech moguls, with the fifty-seven (57) technology billionaires on the index adding $262 billion, a thirty-five (35%) percent increase that was the most of any sector on the ranking.
  • Facebook Inc. co-founder Mark Zuckerberghad the fourth-largest U.S. dollar increase on the index, adding $22.6 billion, or forty-five (45%) percent, and filed plans to sell eighteen (18%) percent of his stake in the social media giant as part of his plan to give away the majority of his $72.6 billion fortune.
  • In all, the 440 billionaires on the index who added to their fortunes in 2017, gained a combined $1.05 trillion.
  • The Bloomberg index discovered sixty-seven (67) hidden billionaires in 2017.
  • Renaissance Technologies’ Henry Lauferwas identified with a net worth of $4 billion in April. Robert Mercer, 71, who plans to step down as co-CEO of the world’s most profitable trading fund on Jan. 1, couldn’t be confirmed as a billionaire.
  • Two fish billionaires were caught: Russia’s Vitaly Orlovand Chuck Bundrant of Trident Seafood.
  • A Brazilian tycoon who built a $1.3 billion fortune with Latin America’s biggest wind developer was interviewed in April.
  • Two New York real estate moguls were identified, Ben Ashkenazy and Joel Wiener.
  • Several technology startup billionaires were identified, including the chief executive officer of Roku Inc. and the two co-founders of Wayfair Inc.
  • Investor euphoria created a number of bitcoin billionaires, including Tyler and Cameron Winkelvoss, with the value of the cryptocurrency soaring to more than $16,000 Tuesday, up from $1,140 on Jan. 4. The leap came with a chorus of warnings, including from Janet Yellen, who called the emerging tender a “highly speculative asset” at her last news conference as chair of the Federal Reserve, on Dec. 13.

I’m not going to highlight the losers because even their monetary losses leave them as millionaires and billionaires.  I know this post makes your day but I tell you these things to indicate that maybe, just maybe it is possible to achieve monetary success in 2018.  I DO KNOW IT’S POSSIBLE TO TRY.  Now, when I say success, I’m not necessarily talking about millions and certainly not billions—enough to cover the basic expenses with a little left over for FUL.

Here’s hoping you all have a marvelous NEW YEAR.  Remember—clean slate.  Starting over. Have a great year.

DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES

November 29, 2017


The graphics for this post are from Feris Alsulmi and the Entrepreneur Magazine.

The title of this post is not really a challenge but merely a question.  Do you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur?  Most individuals at some time in their lives feel they can do it better.  I’ll let you define “IT” but everyone working for a living has dreamed of going it alone—even if that thought is fleeting and momentary.  Someone once said that if your dreams don’t scare you, you are not dreaming big enough.   I would hazard a guess we see the light at the end of that long tunnel as being riches untold and not really considering the journey that got us there.  I have started two or three businesses and can relate from personal experience there are those dark days.  Waking up at 2:00 A.M. Wednesday morning wondering how you will make payroll on Friday.  If you are challenged by the prospects, you may appreciate the following graphics and comments.  Let’s take a quick look.

WHAT ARE THE OBVIOUS OBSTACLES

No one wants to fail. No one wants to spend time and money working from dawn to dusk with the result being deep in debt and possible bankruptcy.    Even with this being the case, fully 98% of the replies from polls taken indicate the greatest obstacle is the willingness or the ability to take the necessary risks.  Age may be a factor.  Family circumstances may be a factor. Possible lack of knowledge may be a factor. Fear may be a factor.  Clearly, the ability to attract necessary capital IS a factor.  Ted Turner once said “never use your own money when starting a venture”.  Easy for Turner to say.  In today’s world, finding an “angel” or investment capital is a huge problem.   Thanks to a do-nothing Congress and Executive Branch, we have tax codes that work against an individual launching a business.  This will not change with the next administration or the 114th Congress.  It won’t change.

In looking at the graphic above, you can see 2009 numbers and they are not pretty.  Sixty-one thousand bankruptcies and six hundred and sixty-one thousand company closures.  Most of these are retail establishments relative to manufacturing companies but even so—that hurts.  Now, 2009 was the year after the housing bubble popped.  Did you see that coming? I did not. Not on my radar at all and yet, the bubble affected all of us. Everyone.  You will not be taking your family for Sunday dinner or a movie on Saturday if you have a sudden drop in sales.  People with their homes in foreclosure don’t spend for items somewhat frivolous in nature.

IS AGE A FACTOR

It’s a given fact, the older you are the more experience you have.  There are few successful business owners under the age of thirty and most of them are whiz-kids involved in computer science and programming.  Good for them, but most of us are not.

Again, from the graphic, you see that seventy percent of new business owners are married and sixty percent have at least one child.  These facts weigh very heavily on one’s mind with contemplating ownership of a company.

Now the big question:

There are mavericks that launch their businesses without benefit of those items given above but probably few, if any, who do not at least consider the questions posed above.  It takes:

Consider the questions and problems above.  Are you willing to jump?  Is now the time? Are the conditions proper for the company I contemplate starting?  Is my family situation right for a new professional direction?  Am I really dedicated to a fifty, sixty or even seventy hour work week?  If you cannot give answers in a positive fashion to these questions you may really need to continue working for “the man”.  Just a thought.

 


Elon Musk has warned again about the dangers of artificial intelligence, saying that it poses “vastly more risk” than the apparent nuclear capabilities of North Korea does. I feel sure Mr. Musk is talking about the long-term dangers and not short-term realities.   Mr. Musk is shown in the digital picture below.

This is not the first time Musk has stated that AI could potentially be one of the most dangerous international developments. He said in October 2014 that he considered it humanity’s “biggest existential threat”, a view he has repeated several times while making investments in AI startups and organizations, including Open AI, to “keep an eye on what’s going on”.  “Got to regulate AI/robotics like we do food, drugs, aircraft & cars. Public risks require public oversight. Getting rid of the FAA would not make flying safer. They’re there for good reason.”

Musk again called for regulation, previously doing so directly to US governors at their annual national meeting in Providence, Rhode Island.  Musk’s tweets coincide with the testing of an AI designed by OpenAI to play the multiplayer online battle arena (Moba) game Dota 2, which successfully managed to win all its 1-v-1 games at the International Dota 2 championships against many of the world’s best players competing for a $24.8m (£19m) prize fund.

The AI displayed the ability to predict where human players would deploy forces and improvise on the spot, in a game where sheer speed of operation does not correlate with victory, meaning the AI was simply better, not just faster than the best human players.

Musk backed the non-profit AI research company OpenAI in December 2015, taking up a co-chair position. OpenAI’s goal is to develop AI “in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole, unconstrained by a need to generate financial return”. But it is not the first group to take on human players in a gaming scenario. Google’s Deepmind AI outfit, in which Musk was an early investor, beat the world’s best players in the board game Go and has its sights set on conquering the real-time strategy game StarCraft II.

Musk envisions a situation found in the movie “i-ROBOT with humanoid robotic systems shown below.  Robots that can think for themselves. Great movie—but the time-frame was set in a future Earth (2035 A.D.) where robots are common assistants and workers for their human owners, this is the story of “robotophobic” Chicago Police Detective Del Spooner’s investigation into the murder of Dr. Alfred Lanning, who works at U.S. Robotics.  Let me clue you in—the robot did it.

I am sure this audience is familiar with Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics.

  • First Law: A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • Second Law: A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Asimov’s three laws indicate there will be no “Rise of the Machines” like the very popular movie indicates.   For the three laws to be null and void, we would have to enter a world of “singularity”.  The term singularity describes the moment when a civilization changes so much that its rules and technologies are incomprehensible to previous generations. Think of it as a point-of-no-return in history. Most thinkers believe the singularity will be jump-started by extremely rapid technological and scientific changes. These changes will be so fast, and so profound, that every aspect of our society will be transformed, from our bodies and families to our governments and economies.

A good way to understand the singularity is to imagine explaining the internet to somebody living in the year 1200. Your frames of reference would be so different that it would be almost impossible to convey how the internet works, let alone what it means to our society. You are on the other side of what seems like a singularity to our person from the Middle Ages. But from the perspective of a future singularity, we are the medieval ones. Advances in science and technology mean that singularities might happen over periods much shorter than 800 years. And nobody knows for sure what the hell they’ll bring.

Author Ken MacLeod has a character describe the singularity as “the Rapture for nerds” in his novel The Cassini Division, and the turn of phrase stuck, becoming a popular way to describe the singularity. (Note: MacLeod didn’t actually coin this phrase – he says he got the phrase from a satirical essay in an early-1990s issue of Extropy.) Catherynne Valente argued recently for an expansion of the term to include what she calls “personal singularities,” moments where a person is altered so much that she becomes unrecognizable to her former self. This definition could include post-human experiences. Post-human (my words) would describe robotic future.

Could this happen?  Elon Musk has an estimated net worth of $13.2 billion, making him the 87th richest person in the world, according to Forbes. His fortune owes much to his stake in Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA), of which he remains CEO and chief product architect. Musk made his first fortune as a cofounder of PayPal, the online payments system that was sold to eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002.  In other words, he is no dummy.

I think it is very wise to listen to people like Musk and heed any and all warnings they may give. The Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of our country are too busy trying to get reelected to bother with such warnings and when “catch-up” is needed, they always go overboard with rules and regulations.  Now is the time to develop proper and binding laws and regulations—when the technology is new.

THEY GOT IT ALL WRONG

November 15, 2017


We all have heard that necessity is the mother of invention.  There have been wonderful advances in technology since the Industrial Revolution but some inventions haven’t really captured the imagination of many people, including several of the smartest people on the planet.

Consider, for example, this group: Thomas Edison, Lord Kelvin, Steve Ballmer, Robert Metcalfe, and Albert Augustus Pope. Despite backgrounds of amazing achievement and even brilliance, all share the dubious distinction of making some of the worst technological predictions in history and I mean the very worst.

Had they been right, history would be radically different and today, there would be no airplanes, moon landings, home computers, iPhones, or Internet. Fortunately, they were wrong.  And that should tell us something: Even those who shape the future can’t always get a handle on it.

Let’s take a look at several forecasts that were most publically, painfully, incorrect. From Edison to Kelvin to Ballmer, click through for 10 of the worst technological predictions in history.

“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” William Thomson (often referred to as Lord Kelvin), mathematical physicist and engineer, President, Royal Society, in 1895.

A prolific scientific scholar whose name is commonly associated with the history of math and science, Lord Kelvin was nevertheless skeptical about flight. In retrospect, it is often said that Kelvin was quoted out of context, but his aversion to flying machines was well known. At one point, he is said to have publically declared that he “had not the smallest molecule of faith in aerial navigation.” OK, go tell that to Wilber and Orville.

“Fooling around with alternating current is just a waste of time. No one will use it, ever. Thomas Edison, 1889.

Thomas Edison’s brilliance was unassailable. A prolific inventor, he earned 1,093 patents in areas ranging from electric power to sound recording to motion pictures and light bulbs. But he believed that alternating current (AC) was unworkable and its high voltages were dangerous.As a result, he battled those who supported the technology. His so-called “war of currents” came to an end, however, when AC grabbed a larger market share, and he was forced out of the control of his own company.

 

“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.” Popular Mechanics Magazine, 1949.

The oft-repeated quotation, which has virtually taken on a life of its own over the years, is actually condensed. The original quote was: “Where a calculator like the ENIAC today is equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and perhaps weigh only 1.5 tons.” Stated either way, though, the quotation delivers a clear message: Computers are mammoth machines, and always will be. Prior to the emergence of the transistor as a computing tool, no one, including Popular Mechanics, foresaw the incredible miniaturization that was about to begin.

 

“Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” Darryl Zanuck, 20th Century Fox, 1946.

Hollywood film producer Darryl Zanuck earned three Academy Awards for Best Picture, but proved he had little understanding of the tastes of Americans when it came to technology. Television provided an alternative to the big screen and a superior means of influencing public opinion, despite Zanuck’s dire predictions. Moreover, the technology didn’t wither after six months; it blossomed. By the 1950s, many homes had TVs. In 2013, 79% of the world’s households had them.

 

“I predict the Internet will go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.” Robert Metcalfe, founder of 3Com, in 1995.

An MIT-educated electrical engineer who co-invented Ethernet and founded 3Com, Robert Metcalfe is a holder of the National Medal of Technology, as well as an IEEE Medal of Honor. Still, he apparently was one of many who failed to foresee the unbelievable potential of the Internet. Today, 47% of the 7.3 billion people on the planet use the Internet. Metcalfe is currently a professor of innovation and Murchison Fellow of Free Enterprise at the University of Texas at Austin.

“There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.” Steve Ballmer, former CEO, Microsoft Corp., in 2007.

Some magna cum laude Harvard math graduate with an estimated $33 billion in personal wealth, Steve Ballmer had an amazing tenure at Microsoft. Under his leadership, Microsoft’s annual revenue surged from $25 billion to $70 billion, and its net income jumped 215%. Still, his insights failed him when it came to the iPhone. Apple sold 6.7 million iPhones in its first five quarters, and by end of fiscal year 2010, its sales had grown to 73.5 million.

 

 

“After the rocket quits our air and starts on its longer journey, its flight would be neither accelerated nor maintained by the explosion of the charges it then might have left.” The New York Times,1920.

The New York Times was sensationally wrong when it assessed the future of rocketry in 1920, but few people of the era were in a position to dispute their declaration. Forty-one years later, astronaut Alan Shepard was the first American to enter space and 49 years later, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, laying waste to the idea that rocketry wouldn’t work. When Apollo 11 was on its way to the moon in 1969, the Times finally acknowledged the famous quotation and amended its view on the subject.

“With over 15 types of foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn’t likely to carve out a big share of the market for itself.” Business Week, August 2, 1968.

Business Week seemed to be on safe ground in 1968, when it predicted that Japanese market share in the auto industry would be miniscule. But the magazine’s editors underestimated the American consumer’s growing distaste for the domestic concept of planned obsolescence. By the 1970s, Americans were flocking to Japanese dealerships, in large part because Japanese manufacturers made inexpensive, reliable cars. That trend has continued over the past 40 years. In 2016, Japanese automakers built more cars in the US than Detroit did.

“You cannot get people to sit over an explosion.” Albert Augustus Pope, founder, Pope Manufacturing, in the early 1900s.

Albert Augustus Pope thought he saw the future when he launched production of electric cars in Hartford, CT, in 1897. Listening to the quiet performance of the electrics, he made his now-famous declaration about the future of the internal combustion engine. Despite his preference for electrics, however, Pope also built gasoline-burning cars, laying the groundwork for future generations of IC engines. In 2010, there were more than one billion vehicles in the world, the majority of which used internal combustion propulsion.

 

 

 

“I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked to the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.” Editor, Prentice Hall Books,1957.

The concept of data processing was a head-scratcher in 1957, especially for the unnamed Prentice Hall editor who uttered the oft-quoted prediction of its demise. The prediction has since been used in countless technical presentations, usually as an example of our inability to see the future. Amazingly, the editor’s forecast has recently begun to look even worse, as Internet of Things users search for ways to process the mountains of data coming from a new breed of connected devices. By 2020, experts predict there will be 30 to 50 billion such connected devices sending their data to computers for processing.

CONCLUSIONS:

Last but not least, Charles Holland Duell in 1898 was appointed as the United States Commissioner of Patents, and held that post until 1901.  In that role, he is famous for purportedly saying “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”  Well Charlie, maybe not.


Portions of this post are taken from the publication “Industry Week”, Bloomberg View, 30 October 2017.

The Bloomberg report begins by stating: “The industrial conglomerate has lost $100 billion in market value this year as investors came to terms with the dawning reality that GE’s businesses don’t generate enough cash to support its rich dividend.”

Do you in your wildest dreams think that Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, would have produced results such as this?  I do NOT think so.  Welch “lived” with the guys on Wall Street.  These pitiful results come to us from Mr. Jeffery Immelt.  It’s also now clear that years of streamlining didn’t go far enough as challenges of dumpster-fire proportions at its power and energy divisions overshadowed what were actually pretty good third-quarter health-care and aviation numbers.  Let me mention right now that I can sound off at the results.  I retired from a GE facility—The Roper Corporation, in 2005.

The new CEO John Flannery’s pledged to divest twenty billion ($20 billion) in assets perhaps is risking another piecemeal breakup but as details leak on the divestitures and other changes Flannery’s contemplating, there’s at least a shot he could be positioning the company for something more drastic.  Now back to Immelt.

Immelt took over the top position at GE in 2001. Early attempts at changing the culture to meet Immelt’s ideas about what the corporate culture should look like were not very successful. It was during the financial crisis that he began to think differently. It seems as if his thinking followed three paths. First, get rid of the financial areas of the company because they were just a diversion to what needed to be done. Second, make GE into a company focused upon industrial goods. And, third, create a company that would tie the industrial goods to information technology so that the physical and the informational would all be of one package. The results of Immelt’s thinking are not impressive and did not position GE for company growth in the twenty-first century.

Any potential downsizing by Flannery will please investors who have viewed the digital foray as an expensive pet project of Immelt’s, but it’s sort of a weird thing to do if you still want to turn GE into a top-ten software company — as is the divestiture of the digital-facing Centricity health-care IT operations that GE is reportedly contemplating.  Perhaps a wholesale breakup of General Electric Co. isn’t such an improbable idea after all.

GE has lost one hundred billion ($100 billion) in market value this year as investors came to terms with the dawning reality that GE’s businesses don’t generate enough cash to support its rich dividend. It’s also now clear that years of streamlining didn’t go far enough as challenges of dumpster fire proportions at its power and energy divisions overshadowed what were actually pretty good third-quarter health-care and aviation numbers.

One argument against a breakup of GE was that it would detract from the breadth of expertise and resources that set the company apart in the push to make industrial machinery of all kinds run more efficiently. But now, GE’s approach to digital appears to be changing. Rather than trying to be everything for everyone, the company is refocusing digital marketing efforts on customers in its core businesses and deepening partnerships with tech giants including Microsoft Corp and Apple Inc. It hasn’t announced any financial backers yet, but that’s a possibility former CEO Jeff Immelt intimated before he departed. GE’s digital spending is a likely target of its cost-cutting push.

This downsizing will please investors who have viewed digital as an expensive pet project of Immelt’s, but it’s sort of a weird thing to do if you still want to turn GE into a top-10 software company — as is the divestiture of the digital-facing Centricity health-care IT operations that GE is reportedly contemplating.

The company is unlikely to abandon digital altogether. Industrial customers have been trained to expect data-enhanced efficiency, and GE has to offer that to be competitive. As Flannery said at GE’s Minds and Machines conference last week, “A company that just builds machines will not survive.” But if all we’re ultimately talking about here is smarter equipment, as opposed to a whole new software ecosystem, GE doesn’t necessarily need a health-care, aviation and power business.

Creating four or five mini-GEs would likely mean tax penalties.  That’s not in and of itself a reason to maintain a portfolio that’s not working. If it was, GE wouldn’t also be contemplating a sale of its transportation division. But one of GE’s flaws in the minds of investors right now is its financial complexity, and there’s something to be said for a complete rethinking of the way it’s put together. For what it’s worth, the average of JPMorgan Chase & Co. analyst Steve Tusa’s sum-of-the-parts analyses points to a twenty-dollar ($20) valuation — almost in line with GE’s closing price of $20.79 on Friday. Whatever premium the whole company once commanded over the value of its parts has been significantly weakened.

Wall Street is torn on General Electric, the one-time favorite blue chip for long-term investors, which is now facing an identity crisis and possible dividend cut. Major research shops downgraded and upgraded the industrial company following its third-quarter earnings miss this past Friday. The firm’s September quarter profits were hit by restructuring costs and weak performance from its power and oil and gas businesses. It was the company’s first earnings report under CEO John Flannery, who replaced Jeff Immelt in August. Two firms reduced their ratings for General Electric shares due to concerns about dividend cuts at its Nov. 13 analyst meeting. The company has a 4.2 percent dividend yield. General Electric shares declined 6.3 percent Monday to close at $22.32 a share after the reports. The percentage drop is the largest for the stock in six years. Its shares are down twenty-five (25%) percent year to date through Friday versus the S&P 500’s fifteen (15%) percent return.

At the end of the day, it comes down to what kind of company GE wants to be. The financial realities of a breakup might be painful, but so would years’ worth of pain in its power business as weak demand and pricing pressures drive a decline to a new normal of lower profitability. Does it really matter, then, what the growth opportunities are in aviation and health care? As head of M&A at GE, Flannery was at least partly responsible for the Alstom SA acquisition that swelled the size of the now-troubled power unit inside GE. If there really are “no sacred cows,” he has a chance to rewrite that legacy.

CONCLUSIONS:

Times are changing and GE had better change with those times or the company faces significant additional difficulties.  Direction must be left to the board of directors but it’s very obvious that accommodations to suite the present business climate are definitely in order.

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