Is Buying GE Stock a Smart Health Care Play?


Investors can have the blinders on to some extent when it comes to health care. Biotech and pharmaceutical stocks get the most buzz, but plenty of other companies that do business in the health care industry could be worthy of consideration. Buying GE stock, for example, probably isn't on many investors' radar screens as a health-care play, but should it be? Let's take a look.

Bringing good things to life
While GE is a massive conglomerate spanning multiple industries, its GE Healthcare segment claims an important place within the company. Healthcare ranks as the fourth-largest segment overall in terms of revenue and the third-largest industrial segment.

Source: Company 10-K report.

GE Healthcare posted 2012 revenue of $18.3 billion. Its products include a wide variety of medical equipment such as magnetic resonance imaging -- or MRI -- platforms, ultrasound systems, surgical imaging systems, patient monitoring technology, and many others. The business segment goes beyond just medical equipment, though. GE Healthcare also sells electronic medical record systems, clinical consumable products, and technology used in drug discovery.

On the medical equipment front, GE Healthcare has a handful of major rivals. Philips and Siemens stand out as two of the leading competitors. Both, like GE, are conglomerates that boast large health care business segments. Both Philips and Siemens market many of the same types of medical imaging equipment that GE does.

GE Healthcare also claims one of the top spots in the world of electronic medical records. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, reported recently that the company ranked in the No. 5 spot for Meaningful Use attestations needed for health care providers to receive federal incentives. Only two publicly traded companies placed higher than GE Healthcare -- Allscripts and Quality Systems' NextGen Healthcare unit.

Imagination at work?
Just being big doesn't necessarily make a company a good investment. Are we letting our imaginations run wild by even considering buying GE stock as a health care play? Maybe.

For one thing, GE Healthcare's financial growth doesn't compare well against the other business segments. Only GE Capital had worse revenue growth last year. Profit growth for GE Healthcare ranked at the bottom of all the business segments.

Source: Company 10-K report.

GE Healthcare's sales growth of 1.1% and earnings growth of 4.2% lagged well behind that of Philips Healthcare, which reported sales and earnings growth last year of 6% and 11%, respectively. Siemens also fared better in 2012 than GE. The German corporation's health care segment posted revenue growth of 9% and profit growth of 36%.

On a positive note, GE Healthcare's numbers easily surpassed those of Allscripts, which had flat revenue in 2012 compared to the prior year and experienced declining net income. Quality Systems, meanwhile, outperformed on revenue with 7% growth but saw net income plummet.

GE stock has held its own when compared to these rivals. So far in 2013, shares are up 16% -- better than all of the aforementioned companies except Allscripts, which has rebounded this year from a big sell-off in the fourth quarter of 2012. Of course, GE stock's relative success hasn't really been due to GE Healthcare.

GE Chart
GE Chart

GE data by YCharts.

Foolish take
What's the bottom line? GE isn't a bad investment. The stock has performed reasonably well recently and isn't priced extravagantly. I also like the solid dividend yield of 3.2%.

But is buying GE stock a smart health care play? Despite its enviable position in several health care markets, I think there are better picks in the industry. Maybe one of those pharma stocks getting the buzz would be smarter after all.

Health care might not be GE's strong point right now, but energy is a different story altogether. For GE, the recent financial crisis struck a blow, but management took advantage of the market's dip to make strategic bets in energy. If you're a GE investor, you need to understand how these bets could drive this company to become the world's infrastructure leader. At the same time, you need to be aware of the threats to GE's portfolio. To help, we're offering comprehensive coverage for investors in a premium report on General Electric, in which our industrials analyst breaks down GE's multiple businesses. You'll find reasons to buy or sell GE today. To get started, click here now.

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Fool contributor Keith Speights has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Quality Systems. The Motley Fool owns shares of General Electric Company. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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