The General Electric Company (GE) is an original member of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) and one of America’s most iconic manufacturing companies. The company was originally founded to promote electricity and the inventions of Thomas Edison. It is responsible for many inventions and products, such as refrigerators, electric stoves, jet engines, and X-ray machines—things many people couldn’t imagine living without today.

General Electric underwent a reorganization designed to refocus the company on the research, development, and manufacturing of high technology industrial products, in 2016. As part of this reorganization, General Electric sold or spun off the majority of its GE Capital unit. This caused General Electric to make changes to its preferred stock that was connected to the GE Capital unit.

key takeaways

  • In 2016, General Electric reorganized, and created a new series of preferred stock, the Series D 5% fixed-to-floating rate noncumulative perpetual preferred stock.
  • After paying a set 5% dividend for five years, in 2021 the Series D shares become callable and change to paying a floating rate dividend, set at 3.33% plus the three-month LIBOR rate.
  • The Series D stock offers a steady income stream at an inflation-exceeding rate.

Old GE Preferred vs New GE Preferred

General Electric had three outstanding sets of preferred shares, Series A, Series B and Series C. The company announced on December 18, 2015, that it would be exchanging all the Series A, B, and C shares for a new Series D 5% fixed-to-floating rate noncumulative perpetual preferred stock. On January 20, 2016, General Electric announced that 95.8% of the old preferred series had been tendered in the exchange offer for Series D shares.

Breaking Down GE Series D Stock

The Series D preferred stock pays a set 5% dividend for the first five years. On January 21, 2021, the Series D shares become callable preferred stock and change to paying a floating rate dividend. The annual dividend will be set at 3.33% plus the three-month LIBOR rate. So, if one took the current (as of November 19, 2019) three-month LIBOR rate of 1.89% and added 3.33%, the dividend would be set 5.22%. (This is just an example: the actual dividend rate in 2021 will be different.)

The company has the right to redeem any and all Series D shares on any dividend payment date after January 21, 2021.

Moody’s originally rated the Series D preferred shares an A3, which is considered investment grade. The benchmarks for investment-grade securities are U.S. Treasury securities of similar durations. In October 2018, Moody's downgraded GE to Baa1, indicating a greater degree of risk (though still investment grade).

General Electric’s Series D preferred stock pays a dividend of 5% for five years, while the five-year U.S. Treasury note (T-note) has an interest payment of 1.38%. After the five-year period is over, the Series D preferred pays a minimum dividend of 3.3%, while a 30-year U.S. Treasury bond (T-bond) has an interest payment rate of 2.67%. If interest rates increase, the LIBOR addition to the minimum dividend will also increase, providing a hedge against inflation and interest rate risk that is not available from a U.S. T-bond.

There is a difference in tax treatment between interest payments and dividends. Interest payments are taxed fully as ordinary income, with a top federal tax rate of 37%. Ordinary or unqualified dividends are taxed at this rate as well. Qualified dividends receive preferential tax treatment, like that of capital gains; they are generally taxed at 15% or 20%, depending on the individual's tax bracket.

GE Common vs. Preferred

General Electric’s common stock has a dividend yield of .35%, as of Nov. 27, 2019. The company has a stated policy of returning capital received from the divestiture of GE Capital assets to shareholders in the form of stock buybacks or increased dividends. This will increase General Electric's share price and increase the dividend yield based on the initial amount invested. The common stock has a greater potential for total return over a 5- to 10-year period than the preferred stock. However, there is the chance of an economic event that will cause the common stock share price to drop, while the face value of the Series D will remain constant.

The Bottom Line

The main investors in General Electric’s Series D preferred are mutual funds and institutional investors looking for a steady income stream from a relatively safe investment. The Series D preferred is an excellent investment for investors actively managing their retirement savings accounts and looking for income streams that exceed the rate of inflation. The common stock is the better retirement plan investment for people not needing current income from their retirement accounts.