The Securities and Exchange Commission has expanded its investigation into accounting issues at General Electric, now looking into a $22 billion impairment charge.
Jamie Miller, GE CFO and senior vice president, told analysts during the company’s third-quarter earnings call that the SEC has widened the scope of its ongoing investigation to include the $22 billion goodwill charge, most of which stems from the company’s 2015 acquisition of the power and grid business of France’s Alstom. The company attributes $19 billion of the charge to its power generation unit and $3 billion to its grid business, he said.
GE earlier revealed the SEC and the U.S. Department of Justice were investigating accounting issues, most notably a $6.2 billion loss tied to its legacy insurance portfolio. The company was already under investigation connected to its sub-prime mortgage business, which GE closed in 2007 at the onset of the financial crisis.
“The SEC expanded the scope of its ongoing investigation to include the goodwill charge,” said Miller, according to the earnings call transcript. “The Department of Justice is also investigating this charge, and the other areas that we have previously reported are part of the SEC's investigation. We are cooperating with the SEC and DOJ as they continue their work on these matters.”
Leading up to the impairment charge, GE “had a thin margin between fair value and carrying value” for both its power generating business and its grid business, said Miller. Both businesses failed their goodwill impairment tests, he said, “which required us to fair value the assets of the businesses with any remaining value being allocated to goodwill.” The Financial Accounting Standards Board dramatically simplified goodwill impairment testing in 2017, making the exercise less onerous than it had become in recent years.
“The size of the charge results from the significant value associated with the unrecognized legacy assets, principally our profitable services backlog, long-standing customer relationships, and our gas turbine technology,” Miller said. “And the value of these assets essentially squeezed out any remaining room for goodwill.”
GE may not be the only company facing a bumpy ride with goodwill impairment testing this year. A recent report from Mercer suggests goodwill impairment testing will look significantly different for companies this year, largely due to changes in accounting and tax rules, most notably the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.