GE Offers Tepid '08 View

The giant sees earnings growth below Wall Street's expectation.
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General Electric

(GE) - Get Report

disappointed Wall Street Tuesday with a weaker-than-expected earnings forecast for next year.

The industrial bellwether and Dow component projected "at least" a 10% increase in EPS for 2008. That fell short of expectations on Wall Street for roughly 13% growth, based on the average estimates reported by Thomson First Call.

Despite the disappointment, GE held itself out as a safe haven for investors as the economic outlook grows more dim.

The multinational blue-chip stalwart reaffirmed its earnings forecast for the year, authorized a new $15 billion share buyback and lifted its dividend, continuing its annual tradition of boosting its payout.

The company said its performance will come amid organic revenue growth at three times the rate of U.S. economic growth, expanding margins and returns, a higher tax rate, accelerating global growth and industrial earnings that outpace financial services.

"This commitment reflects a slowing U.S. economy," said GE in a press release. "We want to give our investors safe and reliable earnings growth as the economy evolves."

For the fourth quarter, GE reiterated its earlier guidance for earnings of 67 cents to 69 cents a share, reflecting year-over-year growth of 14% to 18%. That was in line with expectations on Wall Street.

For 2007, it still expects earnings of $2.19 to $2.21 a share, up 18% to 19% from last year and in line with analysts' average forecast.

GE also said it will return a total of $26 billion to its investors through its dividend and stock repurchases in 2007.

The company's board raised its quarterly dividend 11% to 31 cents a share, bringing its annual dividend to $1.24. GE currently pays iy $1.12 a share annually.

"In 2008, we are planning for the environment we see today," said GE. "We bring to this environment an unmatched set of leadership businesses with global reach and highly visible backlogs. In addition, we have a strong balance sheet and a triple-A credit rating -- a massive competitive advantage in this environment -- with no exposure to collateralized debt obligations or structured investment vehicles."

Shares of GE recently were down 38 cents, or 1.2%, to $37.03 amid a broader selloff in the market.