The enforcement blows continue for General Electric, which revealed in a regulatory filing Tuesday that staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission is considering bringing a civil injunctive action against the company regarding accounting issues tied to GE’s legacy insurance portfolio.
GE revealed in 2018 that it was being investigated by the SEC over its accounting practices after a $6.2 billion charge in late 2017 stemming from its GE Capital insurance portfolio. In its latest regulatory filing, GE said it was issued a “Wells Notice” by SEC staff on Sept. 30 relating to “historical premium deficiency testing for GE Capital’s run-off insurance operations, as well as GE’s disclosures relating to such run-off insurance operations.”
A Wells Notice is neither a formal allegation nor a finding of wrongdoing. “It allows GE the opportunity to provide its perspective and to address the issues raised by the SEC staff before any decision is made by the SEC on whether to authorize the commencement of an enforcement proceeding,” GE said in the regulatory filing, adding that it “disagrees with the SEC staff with respect to this recommendation and will provide a response through the Wells Notice process.”
The Wells Notice relates to just one accounting headache for GE. In October 2018, GE said the SEC expanded its original investigation after the company took a $22 billion impairment charge to goodwill, most of which stems from the 2015 acquisition of the power and grid business of Alstom in France. Also being probed is the company’s revenue recognition practices. “The staff has not made a preliminary decision whether to recommend any action with respect to the other matters under investigation,” GE said in its regulatory filing.
In April 2019, the Department of Justice ordered GE to pay a civil penalty of $1.5 billion related to its now-defunct WMC mortgage business. WMC was involved in originating and selling subprime mortgages in the lead up to the 2008-2009 financial crisis and subsequent recession.
“If the SEC were to authorize an action against GE, it could seek an injunction against future violations of provisions of the federal securities laws, the imposition of civil monetary penalties, and other relief within the Commission’s authority,” GE said. “The results of the Wells Notice and any enforcement action are unknown at this time.”