Friday, November 13, 2009

GE’s Immelt: I thought wind was a “hula hoop”

From Marc Gunther's blog:
GE’s chief executive, Jeff Immelt, opened the Net Impact 2009 conference this morning at Cornell University and, as usual, he was thoughtful and provocative. He was bullish on GE, of course, but, after this tough year for the U.S. economy, he sounded more pessimistic than usual about where the country and its economy are going.

The American consumer, the financial services industry and the construction industry were the major drivers of America’s long boom, going back to the 1980s. None is likely to drive economic growth in the future, Immelt said.

Instead, he noted, growth will be most robust in the developing world–places like China, India and Brazil that have bounced back more quicly than the U.S. from the global downturn–and it’s by no means clear that U.S. industry is positioned to capitalize on that growth....

...By contrast, GE continues to invest in R&D–about $3 billion in energy technology alone, Immelt said. And about 80% of GE’s revenues come from outside the U.S. His not-so-subtle message was that the U.S. needs to behave a lot more like GE. Fair point, although some GE shareholders might disagree–the company’s stock price remains well below what it was when Immelt took over in September 2001.

Some other highlights from Immelt’s talk:

He’s a bigger believer in wind power than in solar. He had resisted investing in wind at first. “The team pitched me wind for two years. I said this is a hula hoop.” But when Enron went bankrupt, and its wind business became available at a discount, Immelt figured he’d take a flyer on it. “For $200 million, how wrong can we be?” Today, wind is a $6 billion business for GE. Solar energy, he said, remains too expensive to compete, at least for now....MORE