AMONG the proud titans humiliated in the financial crisis of 2007-08 was GE, forced to take a government bail-out in 2008. In response it swiftly slimmed down its lending arm, GE Capital. But the regulators were still not happy. In 2013 they labelled it a “systemically important financial institution” (SIFI), ie, one big enough to pose a global risk. That imposed costly regulatory burdens and encouraged GE’s boss, Jeffrey Immelt, to announce in April 2015 that he would wind down most of GE’s finance division within three years.

In a remarkable corporate transformation, he is ahead of schedule. The disposal to Wells Fargo this week of GE’s global inventory-financing business means that GE has sold $193 billion of “ending net investment”, or ENI (an adjusted asset figure), in the past 18 months, covering more than 25 lending units.

It has taken almost a decade. But GE is, almost, an ex-bank. As Mr Immelt promised last year, it is also much simpler. It shed its SIFI status in June. Lending, in ENI terms, is down by 85% from its peak in 2008 (see chart) and now focuses on its core industrial businesses. Its reliance…Continue reading