February 16, 2018 / 4:34 PM / 10 months ago

GE faces shareholder lawsuit over insurance shortfall, SEC probe

NEW YORK (Reuters) - General Electric Co was sued on Friday by a shareholder who accused the conglomerate of concealing mounting insurance liabilities and a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission probe, saying it cost shareholders tens of billions of dollars.

FILE PHOTO: The General Electric logo is pictured on the General Electric offshore wind turbine plant in Montoir-de-Bretagne, near Saint-Nazaire, western France, November 21, 2016. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe/File Photo

The complaint filed by the Cleveland Bakers and Teamsters Pension Fund appears to be the first proposed shareholder class action accusing GE of securities fraud since the company surprised investors with two negative announcements last month.

On Jan. 16, GE said it would take a $6.2 billion pretax charge and set aside $15 billion in reserves to help cover insurance operations held by its GE Capital unit, mainly concerning long-term-care insurance policies.

Eight days later, it said the SEC had begun probing how it handled its insurance obligations, as well as how it accounted for service agreements related to power plants, jet engines and other equipment.

Other defendants in the lawsuit, filed in federal court in New York, include GE Chief Executive Officer John Flannery, his predecessor Jeffrey Immelt, Chief Financial Officer Jamie Miller and her predecessor Jeffrey Bornstein.

“The company will defend itself against these claims,” a GE spokeswoman said.

Daniel Berger, a lawyer for the plaintiff, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit seeks damages on behalf of shareholders from Feb. 26, 2013, to Jan. 24, 2018.

GE’s market value fell to roughly $143 billion by the end of the class period from more than $290 billion in July 2016.

The Boston-based company has faced earlier shareholder lawsuits over its falling stock price.

Long-term-care insurance has become a more troublesome and costly business, including for the Genworth Financial Inc business that GE spun off in 2004, as policyholders live longer.

The complaint said GE knew or should have known it was not immune from that trend, and quoted from analysts covering GE who wrote that it was “hard to believe” or “hard to imagine” that the company suddenly discovered its problems.

GE stopped writing long-term-care insurance contracts in 2006, but has said it provides reinsurance on about 300,000 policies.

The case is Cleveland Bakers and Teamsters Pension Fund v General Electric Co et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 18-01404.

Reporting by Alwyn Scott and Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Tom Brown and Leslie Adler

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