CORRECTION: This article, originally published at 4:16 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 16, has been corrected to indicate that GE predicts organic revenue growth of up to 4%.
From a company that began over a century ago with a single signature product, the light bulb, General Electric (GE) - Get Report grew into a sprawling conglomerate that did everything from building jet engines to running a television network and lending money to consumers.
It also grew increasingly hard for investors to understand, hampering the recovery of its stock prices and significantly challenging its loan business during the financial crisis.
As a result, CEO Jeffrey Immelt has spent much of the time since 2008 simplifying the company and refocusing on its manufacturing heritage. That strategy culminated this year in the decision to exit all the lending businesses except those funding GE product sales and the $10 billion acquisition of France-based Alstom's power business -- the largest purchase in GE's history.
Investors appear to like the Fairfield, Conn.-based company's direction. The stock has climbed 22% this year, topping $30, and it's on track to finish the year at its highest price since 2007.
Profit next year will be as much as $1.55 a share, reflecting revenue growth outside of acquisitions of as much as 4% and a gain of about 5 cents a share from the Alstom purchase, the company said at its annual investor meeting. That's up from a forecast of as much as $1.35 this year from industrial operations and the lending businesses that GE is keeping, meaning total growth would be 16%.
Expanding GE's industrial portfolio -- which has been bolstered with deals across India, Pakistan and Indonesia -- will open up a variety of "hidden" opportunities to increase profitability, Immelt said. Growth will be fueled further by the advent of GE's "Industrial Internet," a combination of data sensors and proprietary software, which Immelt says can help save hundreds of millions of dollars across a variety of sectors by improving efficiency and reducing costs.
"We're the only company that's going to have the machines, the analytics, and the operating system," Immelt said. "For an investor, what this should lead to is higher market share of our products, higher organic growth of our services businesses, and higher margins of our service business."
The company's performance will be getting close attention from activist investor Nelson Peltz, whose Trian Fund Management disclosed a 1% stake in GE in October. Peltz was largely supportive of GE's strategy but said he expects Immelt to deliver results.
To a degree, those are already evident. One demonstration is the rapid progress of the GE Capital exit. Immelt has completed $104 billion in sales of GE Capital's loan portfolio after striking agreements with buyers for $155 billion of the business since April.
"We got a lot done," Immelt said. "We essentially completed the portfolio pivot. We are executing extremely well on the plans surrounding GE Capital."
The integration of the Alstom purchase, completed in November, will give GE a $50 billion turbine-services backlog while boosting its total order backlog to more than $300 billion.
The primary advantage of the deal is the opportunity to expand GE's international reach after widening its installed base of power generators by 50%, CFO Jeff Bornstein explained on a conference call earlier this month. It also puts the manufacturer on track to save $3 billion through cost cuts by 2020.
The deal will help GE's industrial segments -- from wind farms to locomotives and jet engines -- reach 90% of the conglomerate's total earnings by 2018, a substantial leap from 58% last year, according to an annual regulatory filing.
"There is a material revolution under way in which GE is in the lead," Immelt said during the conference.
Another major deal didn't fare as well this year. GE pulled out of the $3.3 billion transaction sale of its appliance business to Swedish manufacturer Electrolux this month amid an antitrust lawsuit from the U.S. Justice Department.
It was the company's second unsuccessful attempt to exit the business in the past 10 years, with the first halted during the financial crisis. GE still plans to sell the unit, however, and is targeting a date of early 2016, Immelt said Wednesday. Analysts say the unit will have no shortage of bidders.
There's more to GE's growth strategy than deal-making. The manufacturer is continuing to put money into industrial software products, a business in which it is teaming with companies from Intel to Cisco and AT&T. Immelt will put $1 billion into digital businesses next year, adding workers and offering 100-plus apps.
"We've always been a company that invested in organic growth," the CEO said. "We've been able to do this, if you look back over the past five years, better than our peers."
The Predix platform, a complex system of data analytics that interprets how machines are performing through built-in sensors and modifies them for optimum results, is among its brightest prospects for future growth.
Part of Immelt's strategy for reaching his company-wide profit goal is continuing to pare expenses, and he sees room to boost profit margins by half a percent that way. Since 2011, GE has cut costs relating to selling and manufacturing its products and services by about $2.5 billion, according to Immelt.