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MISSION:INTANGIBLE, the blog of the Intangible Asset Finance Society, offers critical comments on intangible asset, corporate reputation, and finance; supplemented by quantitative reputation metrics. Intangible assets include business processes, patents, trademarks; reputations for ethics and integrity; quality, safety, sustainability, security, and resilience; and comprise 70% of the average company's value. MISSION:INTANGIBLE is a registered trademark of the Intangible Asset Finance Society.

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General Electric: Core concerns

C. HUYGENS - Thursday, March 24, 2011
The Financial Times is concerned that the nuclear crisis in Japan may adversely impact the reputation of General Electric (NYSE:GE).

According to the FT, GE designed the Mark 1 boiling water reactors (BWR) used at the Japanese plant, and supplied the No 1 and No 2 units that went into service in the early 1970s. It has also had engineers at the site up until last week; a team of 44 had been working on maintenance at the shut-down No 4 reactor when the earthquake hit. GE’s nuclear operations are now part of a joint venture with Hitachi of Japan that has two businesses: Hitachi GE Nuclear Energy, which is owned roughly 80-20 by the Japanese and US groups, and is based in Japan, and GE Hitachi, which has 60-40 US-Japanese ownership and covers the rest of the world.

Although the businesses are formally separate, they are closely linked. As well as the 70 people working on the crisis in North Carolina, they have a centre in Tokyo, near the Japanese government’s main response centre, to provide technical support and advice. You can read the balance of the FT article here.

Looking at the reputation metrics, GE’s ranking has been sliding as of late. The Steel City Re Corporate Reputation Index shows that after a steady rise, GE’s ranking shows a net drop over the trailing twelve months from the 60th percentile to the 50th percentile among its 86 peers of General Diversified companies. Consistent with the FT's concerns, the exponentially weighted moving average of the reputation ranking has been climbing lately and measured this past week at just above 6%.

The ten point slide in the Corporate Reputation Index has been associated with a trailing twelve week reputation velocity of -14% and a trailing twelve week reputation vector of -0.8%. Both, being signs of significant reputation volatility, reflect especially acute changes over the past week and suggest growing concerns about GE's reputation for design quality and safety excellence - key intangible assets in the nuclear reactor construction industry.

Now to bring this all back to finance. While GE has been outperforming its peers recently, as of 17 March, its return on equity over the trailing twelve months is only 2.3% greater than the median of its peer group. And it is trending negative.

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