General Electric Co. asked the U.S. to drop the "too big to fail" tag for GE Capital, saying that its financing operations are a shadow of what they were when the Federal Reserve placed it under strict oversight in the aftermath of the global economic crisis almost a decade ago.
The company has been in broad retreat over the past year from its financial ventures, largely because of the cost and risk of complying with boundaries set by the Federal Reserve. It's shed billions in financial assets as it returns to its industrial roots.
GE Capital was listed a "systemically important financial institution," by the Financial Stability Oversight Council following the financial collapse of 2008, a company deemed to be so large and entwined with the U.S. financial system that it could threaten the entire economy if it failed.
That, General Electric said Thursday, has changed.
GE Capital has reduced its assets by 52 percent to $265 billion, the company said Thursday. Financing receivables are down 74 percent to $72 billion. Loans secured by real estate are down 77 percent, GE said.
Loans to consumers are down 95 percent, from $72 billion to $4 billion. Those loans are down to zero in the U.S.
On Wednesday, the company announced the $485 million sale of its GE Asset Management.
"We have completed over 80 percent of our projected asset reductions; exited leveraged lending and U.S. consumer lending; exited nearly all middle market lending; reduced real estate debt by more than 75 percent and real estate equity by 100 percent; and reduced outstanding commercial paper almost 90 percent," said GE Capital Chairman and CEO Keith Sherin in a printed statement.
The Financial Stability Oversight Council is chaired by Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew.
"As Secretary Lew has stated, there is a clear process for de-designation," the Treasury said in a press release Thursday. "Each year the Council carefully re-examines each of its previous designations, invites each company to meet in person with Council staff, and evaluates whether any changes at the company, or in its regulation or markets, justify a rescission of the designation."
How fast it will act, with the U.S. still recovering from the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression, remains to be seen.
"Before the financial crisis, some of the largest, riskiest nonbank financial companies were not subject to adequate oversight," the Council said in its release. "Congress passed Wall Street Reform and created the Council to make the system safer and stronger by closing those regulatory gaps and fostering accountability for the stability of the financial system as a whole. The Council will continue to act within its authority to protect the U.S. economy."
While it was unrelated, the GE request comes a day after MetLife, the largest U.S. insurance company, had the same SIFI designation tossed out by a federal judge.
It was a major legal victory for MetLife, which took the government to court more than a year ago.
In fighting the oversight, MetLife said that tougher requirements on life insurance companies would force the companies to raise the prices of their products, reduce the amount of risk they take on in selling their products, or stop offering some products altogether.
Capital requirements for banks were established to protect depositors, rather than ensuring that life insurers can meet their obligations to policyholders, the company said.
Other than MetLife and GE Capital, the other two nonbank companies under SIFI oversight are American International Group Inc. and Prudential Financial Inc.
Neither would comment Thursday on what they would do next in regard to Fed oversight.
In January, however, AIG said it would sell its broker-dealer segment, start an initial public offering for its mortgage-insurance division and slash expenses after coming under pressure from activist investor Carl Icahn. Icahn has been pushing the New York company to break itself into three.
GE was also under intense pressure before it began to cast off financial assets, focusing instead on industrial technologies, including jet engines, turbines, medical equipment and energy infrastructure.