GE warns more pain ahead as pandemic deals $1 billion cash hitGE warns more pain ahead as pandemic deals $1 billion cash hit
A traffic light is seen in front of a logo of General Electric at the company’s plant in Birr

By Rachit Vats and Alwyn Scott

(Reuters) – General Electric Co <GE.N> said on Wednesday the coronavirus pandemic dealt a $1 billion blow to cash flow at its industrial business in the first quarter, while total revenue fell almost 8% and the company warned the damage would worsen in the next three months.

GE’s share were at $6.60 in premarket trading, down from $6.80 at yesterday’s market close.

The Boston-based conglomerate had earlier this month pulled its 2020 forecast, citing uncertainties created by the coronavirus outbreak, but backed its first-quarter industrial free cash flow expectation of near negative $2 billion.

Free cash flow from industrial operations was negative $2.2 billion in the first quarter, missing analysts’ estimates of negative $2.02 billion, according to Refinitiv data.

GE reported adjusted earnings of 5 cents per share, below the average estimate of 8 cents, according to Refinitiv.

Fallout from the pandemic caused revenue to fall 13% in both the aviation and the power divisions. Profit in aviation fell 39% to $1 billion, while the power unit lost $129 million, GE said.

GE said about 20% of planned maintenance work on power plants had been deferred until later in the year, a factor that weighed on revenue and profit. Many U.S. utilities are deferring non-essential work because of health and safety restrictions.

GE said it planned to cut $2 billion on costs and take other, unspecified steps to save $3 billion in cash in response to the pandemic. The cash actions might include such steps as reducing capital spending or adjusting working capital.

The company had already announced this month plans to furlough half of its U.S. aviation component manufacturing and jet-engine assembly workers, without specifying how many. That move followed GE’s decision to lay off 10% of its 52,000-member aviation workforce in late March.

GE has also said the slowdown in aircraft repairs was affecting half of its maintenance workforce but has not provided numbers.

(Reporting by Rachit Vats and Alwyn Scott; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Bernadette Baum)