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GE, an industrial conglomerate pioneer, to break up

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November 9, 2021

By Abhijith Ganapavaram and Rajesh Kumar Singh

(Reuters) – General Electric said on Tuesday it would split into three public companies as the storied U.S. industrial conglomerate seeks to simplify its business, pare down debt and breathe life into a battered share price.

The split marks the end of the 129-year-old conglomerate that was once the most valuable U.S. corporation and a global symbol of American business power. GE shares were up 6% in morning trade, reaching a nearly 3-1/2 year high.

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The Boston-based company said the three businesses would focus on energy, healthcare and aviation. It will combine GE Renewable Energy, GE Power, and GE Digital and spin off the business in early 2024.

GE will also separate the healthcare company, in which it expects to retain a stake of 19.9%, in early 2023.

Following the split, it will become an aviation company, helmed by GE Chief Executive Larry Culp.

It is the boldest attempt under Culp, who took GE’s reins in 2018, to simplify the company’s business.

Culp has focused on reducing debt and improving cash flows by streamlining operations, cutting overhead costs and faster collections from customers.

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The measures have led to an improvement in GE’s balance sheet, putting it on track to reduce debt by more than $75 billion by the end of 2021.

In an interview with Reuters, Culp said the decision to split the company was paved by GE’s progress in terms of repairing its balance sheet and operational performance.

He did not expect the spin-off to face any regulatory or labor issues and that there was no investor pressure behind the spin-off decision.

“Spins create a lot of value,” he said in the interview. “These are moves geared toward making GE stronger, helping our businesses and the teams perform better.”

INDUSTRIAL POWERHOUSE

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A founding member of the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 1896, GE spent more than a century in that storied stock index before getting the boot in 2018 following years of sliding valuation. It created the first electric cooking range and clothes washer, the first nuclear power plant, and supplied the U.S. space program. Its interests have spanned from television, movies and insurance, to lightbulbs and locomotives.

However, it has been facing investor skepticism about its ability to turn a corner since the 2008 financial crisis, while struggling with debt.

For a graphic, see https://tmsnrt.rs/30eqk2r.

The company’s revenue for 2020 was $79.62 billion, a far cry from the over $180 billion in revenue it booked in 2008.

In 2015, activist investor Nelson Peltz took a stake in GE and demanded changes at the company, including moving away from finance operations toward its industrial roots. Peltz’s company Trian “enthusiastically supports this important step in the transformation of GE,” it said Tuesday.

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The company’s stock, however, continued to underperform and was seen to have prompted former Chief Executive Jeff Immelt’s departure.

GE’s aviation business, usually its cash cow, makes jet-engines for Boeing and Airbus. It was not immediately clear how the company will fund the unit’s operations, which tend to be very capital intensive.

An industry source, however, said the aviation business has been distracted until now by propping up rest of the company, which took a lot of the unit’s bandwidth.

Culp also said the spin-off would make different units “more focused” and result in “greater accountability.”

The company expects to take a one-time charge of $2 billion related to separation and operational costs and tax costs of less than $500 million.

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(Additional reporting by Tim Hepher; writing by Sweta Singh and Rajesh Kumar Singh; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Nick Zieminski)

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Yen shines, Aussie sags as Powell turns hawk despite Omicron uncertainty

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December 1, 2021

By Kevin Buckland

(Reuters) – The safe-haven yen held steady on Wednesday, while the risk-sensitive Australian dollar languished near a one-year low after Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell signalled a faster taper of stimulus despite the risks around the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

Investors fear that hasty monetary tightening could choke off the nascent economic recovery, with little still known about Omicron’s potential to evade current vaccine protection or how deadly it might be.

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“Investors are staying cautious,” said Shusuke Yamada, chief Japan FX strategist at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch.

“It’s very difficult to make a judgement about the impact of Omicron when we don’t have a lot of information.”

Global markets fell sharply on Tuesday after the head of drugmaker Moderna said existing COVID-19 vaccines would be less effective against the new variant, although BioNTech’s chief executive struck a cautiously positive note, saying the vaccine it makes with Pfizer would likely offer strong protection against severe disease from Omicron.

The Aussie weakened 0.12% to $0.71245 after dipping as low as $0.7063 of Tuesday for the first time since Nov. 3, 2020. The New Zealand dollar was largely flat at $0.68195 after also touching the lowest since early November of last year at $0.6773 in the previous session.

The greenback ticked 0.09% higher to 113.26 yen, but still within sight of an overnight low of 112.535, a level not seen since Oct. 11.

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Powell said in testimony to Congress on Tuesday that Fed officials will discuss at their Dec. 14-15 policy meeting whether to end bond purchases a few months earlier than had been anticipated. The Fed chief finally did an about face on a long-held contention that inflation would be “transitory.”

Powell expressed confidence that the impact from Omicron will be far less than in the spring of 2020, when the pandemic erupted.

In response, traders wound up interest rate hike expectations, with money markets now almost fully priced for tightening at the June meeting.

Powell’s testimony continues later Wednesday.

“Powell’s unexpectedly hawkish tone overnight, essentially asserting that inflation risk has primacy over growth/Omicron risks, should leave the (dollar index) forging ahead,” Westpac strategists wrote in a client note.

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The index, which measures the dollar against six major peers, traded at 95.921 after sliding to 95.544 on Tuesday for the first time since Nov. 18, weighed down largely by an unwinding of bearish bets on the euro, the most heavily weighted component in the basket.

Westpac recommends buying dips in the index down to the mid-95 level.

The single currency slipped 0.04% to $1.1331, down from a two-week high of $1.1387 overnight.

Sterling traded not far from an 11-month low of $1.31945 reached overnight, last changing hands at $1.32955.

(Reporting by Kevin Buckland; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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OPEC+ begins two days of talks amid oil rout

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December 1, 2021

LONDON (Reuters) – OPEC and its allies begin two days of meetings on Wednesday to decide whether to release more oil into the market or restrain supply amid an oil price rout and fears the Omicron coronavirus variant could weaken global energy demand.

Oil prices fell to near $70 a barrel on Tuesday from as high as $86 in October, posting their biggest monthly decline since the outset of the pandemic, as the new variant raised fears of a supply glut.

For November, Brent fell by 16.4%, while WTI fell 20.8%, the biggest monthly fall since March 2020.

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“The threat to oil demand is genuine,” said Louise Dickson, senior oil markets analyst at Rystad Energy. “Another wave of lockdowns could result in up to 3 million bpd (barrels per day) of oil demand lost in the first quarter of 2022.”

Also pressuring prices, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said the U.S. central bank likely will discuss speeding its reduction of bond purchases amid a strong economy and expectations that a surge in inflation will persist.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) will meet on Wednesday after 1300 GMT, followed by a meeting on Thursday of OPEC+, which groups OPEC with allies including Russia.

Several OPEC+ ministers, including from Russia and Saudi Arabia, have said there was no need for a knee-jerk reaction from the group.

But some analysts have suggested OPEC+ might put plans to add 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) to supply in January on hold.

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The group was already weighing the effects of last week’s announcement by the United States and other countries to release emergency crude reserves to temper energy prices.

OPEC+ has been gradually winding down record supply cuts of 10 million bpd implemented last year and currently has some 3.8 million bpd of reductions still in place.

The increase in OPEC’s oil output in November has again undershot the rise planned under a deal with allies, a Reuters survey found.

(Reporting by OPEC team, writing by Dmitry Zhdannikov, editing by Richard Pullin)

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New York accuses Amazon of backsliding over worker safety, seeks monitor

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December 1, 2021

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) -New York state’s attorney general on Tuesday asked a state judge to appoint a monitor to oversee worker safety at an Amazon.com Inc fulfillment center in New York City, citing the retailer’s alleged rollbacks of COVID-19 safety measures that were “already inadequate.”

Letitia James, the attorney general, also wants a court order requiring the rehiring of Christian Smalls, who Amazon fired for allegedly violating a paid quarantine by leading a March 2020 protest over conditions at the Staten Island facility.

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James, a Democrat running to become New York governor, sued https://www.reuters.com/article/us-amazon-com-complaint/new-york-attorney-general-sues-amazon-over-covid-19-shortfalls-idUSKBN2AH0C2 Amazon in February in a New York state court in Manhattan over its safety protocols for thousands of workers at the Staten Island facility and a distribution center in the New York City borough of Queens.

She said Amazon is valuing profit over safety and “acting as if the pandemic is over” by rolling back safety protocols even as the Omicron variant https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/omicron-variant-could-outcompete-delta-south-african-disease-expert-says-2021-11-30 of the COVID-19 virus threatens to increase transmission rates.

The alleged rollbacks include making the Staten Island facility “mask-optional” for vaccinated workers while not requiring masks for unvaccinated workers, and failing to enforce social distancing.

In her motion for a preliminary injunction, James said the proposed monitor would oversee upgraded cleaning, hygiene and social distancing procedures.

“While case rates, hospitalizations, and deaths rise, Amazon rescinds protections and packs in more workers for its holiday rush,” James said in her motion. “Amazon’s ongoing – and worsening – failure to protect workers must be halted.”

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Amazon said in a statement it has taken a “comprehensive approach” to COVID-19 safety.

“It’s disappointing that the Attorney General is seeking to politicize the pandemic by asking for ’emergency’ relief now despite having filed this lawsuit nine months ago,” Amazon said.

The Seattle-based company is appealing a judge’s refusal in October to dismiss James’ lawsuit.

Amazon on Nov. 15 reached a separate settlement with California https://www.reuters.com/legal/government/amazon-settles-california-claims-it-concealed-covid-19-cases-workers-2021-11-15 over claims it violated a state “right-to-know” law by concealing from warehouse workers and local health agencies the numbers of workers being infected with COVID-19.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Stephen Coates)

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