General Electric on Wednesday agreed to pay $200 million to settle charges brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission regarding a series of accounting violations at its power and insurance businesses.
The settlement comes two months after GE announced the receipt of a Wells Notice from the SEC indicating an enforcement action was imminent. The conglomerate in late October said it had set aside $100 million to resolve the investigation.
GE revealed in 2018 that it was being investigated by the SEC and the Department of Justice over its accounting practices after a $6.2 billion charge in late 2017 stemming from its GE Capital insurance portfolio. The revelation of the charge, combined with discrepancies revealed at its power business, shocked investors, resulting in an almost 75 percent stock decline during that time.
As such, the SEC alleged GE misled investors during the period from 2015 through 2017 by failing to disclose “worsening trends in its insurance business and the potential for substantial losses,” the agency said in its order. The lapses at the insurance business “required capital contributions by GE of approximately $15 billion over seven years to fund expected future insurance claims,” the SEC noted.
At GE Power, the SEC found the company boosted reported profits by lowering estimated costs relating to contracts to provide repairs and services for gas turbines it manufactured. The estimate reductions, which totaled roughly $2.5 billion between 2016 and the first three quarters of 2017, resulted in revenue and earnings increases that ultimately misled investors in public disclosures.
“Investors are entitled to an accurate picture of a company’s material operating results,” said Stephanie Avakian, director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, in a press release. “GE’s repeated disclosure failures across multiple businesses materially misled investors about how it was generating reported earnings and cash growth as well as latent risks in its insurance business.”
The SEC found GE violated the antifraud, reporting, disclosure controls, and accounting controls provisions of the securities laws. GE neither admitted nor denied the claims but agreed to cease and desist from future violations of the charged provisions. In addition to the $200 million penalty, the company must report for one year to the SEC regarding certain accounting and disclosure controls in its insurance and power businesses.
“We are pleased to have reached an agreement that puts the matter behind us,” GE said in a statement. “Under the current leadership team, we have significantly enhanced our disclosures and internal controls and are a stronger company today.”
GE added the settlement “brings the entire scope of the SEC investigation of GE to a close” and that no revisions to financial statements would be required. The company said at the time of disclosing its Wells Notice in October that the SEC had not made a preliminary decision to recommend action with respect to other probes into a $22 billion impairment charge to goodwill and its revenue recognition practices.
The SEC, for its part, said its investigation remains ongoing. The agency’s order does not include mention of the impairment charge.