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GE's next chapter is Chapter 11: Madoff whistleblower Harry Markopolos

Brian Sozzi
Editor-at-Large

The last thing struggling General Electric (GE) needs right now is a Harry Markopolos.

Markopolos is dusting off the legendary whistle he blew on Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff years ago and is now tooting it out front of GE’s Boston-based headquarters... and the world at large. In a scathing new 170-plus page research report, the financial fraud expert and certified financial analyst (CFA) alleges GE is committing accounting fraud.

Markopolos — whose research on GE is allegedly being used by a hedge fund that reportedly shorts the industrial giant’s stock —dubs the company “GEnron.”

“I believe I have a few smoking guns on GE,” Markopolos told Yahoo Finance’s The Final Round, adding that information was held back from the report for law enforcement. He added that it took seven and half months to complete the report and it was “self-funded.”

Markopolos said the next chapter for GE is Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Several allegations from Markopolos’ report includes:

  • GE has committed a $38 billion fraud primarily by hiding losses.

  • GE will not be cash flow positive by 2021 as executives have suggested.

  • GE is not liquid right now.

  • A recession could tip GE into Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Suffice it to say, GE sees it a vastly different way.

GE declined to make any member of its executive team available for an interview by Yahoo Finance. But a GE spokesperson moved quickly to downplay Markopolos’ findings and play up his motivations (reportedly to get paid by the short hedge funds that wanted his research) via an email to Yahoo Finance this morning.

“We have never met, spoken to or had contact with this person. While we can’t comment on the detailed content of a report that we haven’t seen, the allegations we have heard are entirely false and misleading. It’s widely known and the Wall Street Journal has previously reported that he works for and is compensated by unnamed hedge funds. Such funds are usually financially motivated to try to generate short selling in a company’s stock to create unnecessary volatility,” the GE spokesperson said by email.

The person continued, “GE stands behind its financials. We operate to the highest-level of integrity in our financial reporting and we have clearly laid out our financial obligations in great detail. We remain focused on running our business every day and following the strategic path we have laid out. We will not be distracted by this type of meritless, misguided and self-serving speculation and neither should anyone in the investor community.”

“GE continues to maintain a strong liquidity position, committed credit lines, and several executable options to monetize assets,” the spokesperson added.

GE then came out Thursday afternoon with a statement from its chairman and CEO Larry Culp.

“GE will always take any allegation of financial misconduct seriously. But this is market manipulation — pure and simple. Mr. Markopolos’s report contains false statements of fact, and these claims could have been corrected if he had checked them with GE before publishing the report. The fact that he wrote a 170-page paper but never talked to company officials goes to show that he is not interested in accurate financial analysis, but solely in generating downward volatility in GE stock so that he and his undisclosed hedge fund partner can personally profit,” Culp said.

Markopolos told Yahoo Finance that he didn’t reach out to GE because he “didn’t want to engage in a cover up. Who wants to talk to fraudsters,” he added, noting that GE’s financial statements were used to compile the report. “We used their words against them.”

Harry Markopolos, a fraud investigator and former securities industry official, listens to testimony from David Kotz, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) inspector general, not pictured, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2009, during a Senate Banking Committee hearing regarding Bernard Madoff. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

The Wall Street analysts that cover GE — which Markopolos says have been duped by GE’s accounting practices for years — were slow to weigh in on the report. One analyst at Barclays did wade slightly into the muck, saying Markopolos’ research was concerning.

“The bottom line is he estimates GE still has a $18.5 billion shortfall in its LTC [long-term care] reserves. We are not currently in a position to say whether that estimate is reasonable, although it is certainly concerning,” said Barclays analyst Jay Gelb in a research note.

GE shares plunged more than 12% on the news Thursday.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and co-host of The First Trade at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @BrianSozzi

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