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General Electric Financial Arm's Tax Rate Drove Earnings Beat

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- General Electric (GE)'s financial unit paid just a 9.4% tax rate in the first quarter, making a key contribution to the conglomerate's positive first quarter earnings surprise on Friday.

General Electric management "set expectations for a 15% tax rate and it came in at 9.4% for the quarter," wrote Citigroup analyst Deane Dray in a report published Sunday, noting that the difference added a penny per share to earnings. General Electric earned 34 cents per share in the first quarter, beating consensus analyst expectations by a penny.

General Electric's financial unit earned $1.99 billion from continuing operations in the first quarter, while paying $187 million in taxes.

"Taking a strict view even on just the tax rate, we could easily interpret the 'clean number' as more of a miss relative to our expectations," wrote Bernstein Research analyst Steven Winoker in as research note on Friday.

General Electric's financial unit earned $1.99 billion from continuing operations in the first quarter, while paying $187 million in taxes. That helped bring General Electric's total tax rate to 16% versus the standard 35% federal income tax rate.

General Electric has proven among the most adept U.S. corporations when it comes to minimizing its tax bill. A front page article in The New York Times last year called attention to the issue, causing it to dominate headlines for several days afterward.

While taxes remain a major issue for Americans, most recent headlines have focused on personal rather than corporate income taxes. Much of the debate has centered on President Obama's proposed "Buffett Rule," which would ensure that individuals earning more than $1 million annually pay at least a 30% tax rate.

-- Written by Dan Freed in New York.

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Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.

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