GE receives notice from U.S. regulator of possible civil action

(Reuters) - General Electric GE.N said on Tuesday it has received a notice from U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission staff, warning that the company could face a civil action for possible violations of securities laws related to accounting practices for some of its insurance holdings.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of General Electric is pictured at the 26th World Gas Conference in Paris, France, June 2, 2015. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo

In a regulatory filing, the U.S. industrial conglomerate said the issues the regulator could pursue relate to the company’s run-off insurance operations - a portfolio of about 300,000 long-term care insurance policies it holds in its GE Capital unit.

In 2017, GE took a surprise accounting charge of $6.2 billion and said it would need to set aside $15 billion for long-term care insurance payouts, one of the largest such amounts ever.

Securities regulators opened a probe into the company’s accounting practices after the massive insurance charge. The inquiry, which initially focused on long-term service agreements for maintenance of power plants, jet engines and other industrial equipment, was later expanded to include GE’s review of its insurance business.

Tuesday’s notice marks the first public indication that the SEC staff is considering recommending a regulatory action.

GE, however, said the Wells notice is neither a formal allegation nor a finding of wrongdoing. A Wells notice is a letter sent by the SEC to people or companies when it plans to bring an enforcement action against them.

“GE has fully cooperated with the SEC’s investigation related to past reserve practices at our run-off insurance subsidiary, as we have disclosed since 2018,” a company representative said. “We strongly disagree with the recommendation of the SEC staff and will provide a response through the Wells notice process.”

GE shares were down 3.9% late on Tuesday afternoon.

Most of GE's insurance operations were spun off in Genworth Financial Inc GNW.N more than a decade ago, but it retained some of the legacy long-term care policies and also reinsures policies written by other insurers.

GE has said the SEC is also investigating revenue recognition accounting at the company’s power business, which led to a $22 billion goodwill write-off in 2018.

Reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru, Alwyn Scott in New York and Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Matthew Lewis