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GE expects solution to "fiscal cliff," CFO says

By Scott Malone

NEWTON, Massachusetts (Reuters) - General Electric Co Chief Financial Officer Keith Sherin said he would like to see lawmakers reach a solution to avoid a year-end fiscal cliff but believes it may take longer for a full accord on reducing the U.S. deficit.

"We have elected officials who have a primary responsibility to help us manage the fiscal situation of the country and they're not getting it done," Sherin said. "It's in everybody's interest to find some way to have a bipartisan solution to deal with our deficit situation, which cannot continue obviously at the level they've been. It's going to be a combination of raising revenue and cutting long-term spending."

The fiscal cliff refers to $600 billion in spending cuts and higher taxes scheduled to take effect early in 2013 if Obama and Congress are unable to reach a deal on cutting the federal budget deficit. Going over the cliff could send the U.S. economy back into recession, economists forecast.

The largest U.S. conglomerate refinanced a $5 billion bond that had been due to mature in February with an eye towards avoiding any disruptions to debt markets that could result if the U.S. economy went over the fiscal cliff, Sherin said.

"We looked at the situation and we said, ‘Why are we going to wait? We like the rates, we have a bit of uncertainty here, obviously,'" Sherin said at an event sponsored by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management, outside Boston. "We just did it so we didn't have to refinance that in potentially disrupted markets."

The financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 shook GE to its core, prompting the company to rethink the way it finances itself. GE now holds enough cash on hand to run for more than a year without accessing capital markets, Sherin said.

Sherin's boss, GE Chief Executive Jeff Immelt, was one of a dozen top U.S. CEOs called to the White House to meet with President Barack Obama on Wednesday to discuss a solution to the fiscal cliff.

The meeting was a "constructive, detailed discussion," Sherin said, citing a conversation with Immelt.

Sherin said lawmakers may not be able to agree on an overall deal to address the deficit issue by the year's end and instead may need to come up with some stop-gap solutions.

"There has got to be a little more time to work on the full grand bargain," Sherin said. "I don't think they could possibly resolve all of that by the end of the year. Could there be some kind of agreement that gets at some of these issues and then a further timetable to resolve them completely? That's highly likely."

Still, Sherin said he is expecting the U.S. to avoid a crisis.

"We're not planning on disaster recovery plans and all that," Sherin said. "I'm not losing sleep over the fiscal cliff."

(Reporting By Scott Malone)

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