G.E. Looks to Sell Its Appliances Unit

According to several sources…

General Electric is planning to sell its appliances division, one of the longest-running businesses in the conglomerate’s 120-year history, a person briefed on the matter said Wednesday.

A sale of the unit could fetch at least $5 billion, this person said. G.E. has hired Goldman Sachs to run the auction. Among the potential bidders are Haier of China, Bosch of Germany and LG of South Korea.

The announcement comes as G.E.’s chief executive, Jeffrey Immelt, tries to fix the troubled conglomerate, which has been hit unexpectedly hard by the credit market’s decline and the slumping economy.

Last month, G.E. reported first-quarter earnings that wildly missed analysts’ estimates and its own projections. The stunning announcement, made more notable by G.E.’s status as a bellwether of the economy, shook Wall Street’s confidence. The company’s shares fell 13 percent that day, its biggest one-day loss in two decades.

The picture Mr. Immelt is painting of the economy augured pessimism for consumer businesses like appliances as well. ‘’We are in the toughest economy since 2001 and the worst housing crisis since the Depression,’’ he told shareholders last month.

Since then, Mr. Immelt has vowed to cut $3 billion in costs at the company.

Though the appliance business comprises a small portion of G.E.’s $173 billion in annual revenue, divorcing it from the company would carry great historical import. Since it began selling appliances in 1907, the division has grown to more than $7 billion in annual revenue as it sells a wide range of products, including refrigerators, microwaves and dishwashers. Among the appliances it has introduced are the room air-conditioner (1930), the combined washer-dryer unit (1954) and the toaster oven (1956).

Yet despite its huge agglomeration of businesses, G.E. has sought to slim down recently, cutting loose even those units that hold sentimental value for the company. Last year, it sold its plastics business – where both Mr. Immelt and his predecessor, John F. Welch Jr., worked early in their careers – to Sabic, the big Saudi Arabian industrials company, for $11.6 billion.