March 4, 2020 / 6:11 PM / in a month

RPT-UPDATE 3-GE says coronavirus will hit first-quarter cash flow, sticks to full-year forecast

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By Rachit Vats and Alwyn Scott

March 4 (Reuters) - General Electric Co predicted on Wednesday that the coronavirus would wipe out a substantial chunk of industrial free cash flow in the first quarter, but stuck to full-year financial targets the company set in January.

GE predicted that the outbreak would erase $300 million to $500 million from industrial free cash flow and cause a hit of $200 million to $300 million to its first-quarter operating profit. GE set a forecast for first-quarter earnings of about 10 cents a share on Wednesday, including the virus impact.

The company expects to generate $2 billion to $4 billion of industrial free cash flow in 2020, Chief Executive Larry Culp said.

“We decidedly did not take a view and would not necessarily encourage any extrapolations from what we’ve said here in the first quarter simply because what we don’t know outweighs what we do know at this point,” Culp said on a conference call with analysts. “It’s a volatile, fluid situation, unpredictable in many respects.”

The Boston-based maker of jet engines, power plants and other industrial equipment employs thousands in China. It is considered vulnerable to economic weakness caused by the virus which has cooled the world’s second-largest economy and disrupted global supply chains.

GE shares were up 1.1% at $11, after initially rising about 2% in line with broad market indexes.

Culp affirmed the adjusted profit target of 50 cents to 60 cents per share for 2020, and the industrial free cash flow target of between $2 billion and $4 billion. Analysts have estimated this year’s cash flow at a positive $2.77 billion.

“It’s a very conservative outlook and accommodates a lot of headwinds... basically it sails through everything,” William Blair analyst Nicholas Heymann said.

The U.S. Federal Reserve on Tuesday delivered a surprise early half-point cut in interest rates in a bid to shield the world’s largest economy from the impact of the coronavirus.

GE shares have lost about 16% since the company’s fourth-quarter earnings report in January. (Reporting by Rachit Vats in Bengaluru and Alwyn Scott in New York; Editing by Anil D’Silva, Patrick Graham and David Gregorio)

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