GE to freeze and pre-pay pensions to save up to $8 bn

Massachusetts: General Electric Co said on Monday it would freeze pensions for about 20,000 salaried US employees and take other related moves to help the ailing conglomerate cut debt and reduce its retirement fund deficit by up to $8 billion.
Analysts said the move would largely offset the rise in GE’s pension obligations due to lower interest rates and was in line with other steps Chief Executive Officer Larry Culp has taken over the past year to raise cash and pare down $105.8 billion in debt.
Culp has slashed GE’s quarterly dividend to a penny and has sold — or announced plans to sell Massachusetts non-core businesses, slimming the once-sprawling company to focus just on power plants, jet engines and windmills, plus related equipment and services.
GE’s pension plans are among its biggest liabilities and were underfunded by about $27 billion at the end of 2018. US employees facing the pension freeze will be moved to a defined-contribution retirement plan, such as a 401(k) plan, in 2021.
The company has struggled to boost profits amid a slump in demand for its gas-fired turbines for power generation. It also faces potential costs of more than $1 billion in its jet engine unit from the grounding of Boeing Co’s 737 MAX airliner. GE also is likely to set aside about $11 billion to cover liabilities for its long-term care insurance business.
By freezing the US pensions, pre-paying about $4.5 billion in contributions due in 2021 and 2022 and offering lump sums to about 100,000 retirees, GE said it expects to cut pension underfunding by $5 billion to $8 billion. — Reuters