Bad call: Wall Street urged caution as GE shares soared

General Electric Co. (GE) has managed to outflank its many detractors; meanwhile, its investors -- who bet against the prevailing Wall Street sentiment -- won big.

Shares of the Fairfield, Connecticut-based conglomerate have surged more than 66 percent over the past six months, outperforming both the Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P 500 Index. But, surprisingly, I see no evidence that any Wall Street analyst raised their ratings on GE stock, so investors who followed their advice lost out on some sizable gains. None of the research published on GE this year had a buy rating, according to data compiled by AOL Money & Finance.
Of course, there is plenty not to like about GE. During its July earnings report, the company pointed out that the commercial credit cycle is becoming "increasingly difficult," which underscores the challenges facing its troubled Capital Finance unit. The company also was hurt by weak consumer and business confidence, along with pressure on long-cycle orders. Earnings from continued operations fell 47 percent in the quarter,

Analysts, including Richard Totoriello of S&P Equity, were still not ready to tell investors to snap up shares because many unknowns continue to linger at GE. Except for Engergy Infrastructure, all of the company's businesses posted double-digit declines in the most recent quarter. NBC Universal plunged 41 percent.

"Basically, the stock has been underperforming for four years," Totoriello said. "If you took the finance segment away from GE, you would have a much different company."

GE has raised $45 billion from debt sales this year and pre-funded a third of its planned debt issuance for next year, meeting its goal and underscoring the rebound in the credit markets. It has slashed costs by $3 billion during the quarter, and -- according to media sources -- is jettisoning its security business, which may fetch as much as $2 billion.

Still, plenty of challenges remain. Many on Wall Street would prefer to see GE exit the finance and entertainment businesses, something the company has refused to do. However, one investor undeterred by GE's problems is Warren Buffett. The Oracle of Omaha agreed last year to buy $3 billion in preferred shares to help the conglomerate shore-up its balance sheet. Wall Street analysts are still unsure about what may happen next.

The situation with GE highlights one of Buffett's favorite investing maxims: "Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful."

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