Updated from 3:52 p.m. EST
left its 31-cent fourth-quarter dividend unchanged, but appeared to leave room for a future cut.
CEO Jeff Immelt affirmed the dividend in a statement issued by the company late Friday afternoon, but expressed concern about the weakening economy and left open the possibility of a cut later in the year. The company's health $1.24-a-share annual dividend is a big part of
to its sizable retail investor base.
"The board and I will continue to evaluate the company's dividend level for the second half of 2009 in light of the growing uncertainty in the economy, including U.S. government actions, rising unemployment and the recent announcements by the rating agencies," Immelt said in the statement.
Sterne Agee analyst Nick Heymann, who has predicted GE might have to cut its dividend as soon as the second quarter, said he had never seen GE even hint that it would consider reducing its monthly payout.
The dividendwas as given as apple pie," he said.
Immelt's remarks contrast significantly from his comments about GE's dividend on the company's conference call following its fourth quarter financial report last month. "We believe the dividend represents a good shareholder return in this environment," Immelt said, later adding, that the plan for 2009 included growing "the company organically" and maintaining the dividend.
A GE spokesman declined to elaborate on the release.
GE shares closed up 2.3% to $11.10 Friday.