Updated from 9:53 a.m. EDT

General Electric

(GE) - Get Report

reported a 20% increase in its third-quarter earnings Wednesday, meeting Wall Street's expectations.

For the third quarter ended Sept. 30, the Fairfield, Conn.-based company reported net income of $3.18 billion, or 32 cents a diluted share, matching the number predicted by analysts in a poll conducted by

First Call/Thomson Financial

. In the comparable quarter last year, net income was $2.65 billion, or 27 cents a diluted share.

Revenue was $32 billion, an 18% gain over the $27.2 billion reported for the third quarter last year.

Also, John F. Welch, the company's chairman, said he is "comfortable with the First Call analysts' consensus estimate of $1.27 per share for 2000."

The company's power systems unit, which makes gas turbines and portable power plants, reported the strongest profit growth in the third quarter, with a 69% gain to $670 million from $397 million. And despite its very public inability to attract viewers to its coverage of the 2000 Olympic games, television network

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NBC

reported the strongest revenue gain of any GE unit, posting a 76% change to $1.9 billion from $1 billion. Nicholas Heymann, analyst for

Prudential Securities

, estimated that those revenues would be only around $1.2 billion without Olympics advertising.

The appliances division gained only 3% in revenue to $1.49 billion from $1.45 billion and 16% in profit to $159 million from $137 million. But Heymann said the unit's performance will be a bellwether as the company enacts its electronic commerce operations.

"It's a snoozy 4% to 5% of sales," Heymann said. "It's not a big deal. It's a big deal about a new way of doing business and it's the most visible part of doing business on the Web."

GE finished Wednesday regular trading down $1.50, or 3%, at $56.56.

Lawrence Horan, analyst for

Parker/Hunter

, said Welch's endorsement of the First Call projection for yearly earnings could be to blame for the stock's slide Wednesday. At $1.27 a share annually, compared to $1.07 last year, earnings for the fourth quarter would be 35 cents a share, compared to 31 cents in the fourth quarter of 1999.

"That means the year-to-year growth rate slows, so momentum players are exiting the stock," Horan said, referring to the quarterly growth percentage.Horan rates the stock a buy; Heymann rates it a strong buy. Neither of them work for a firm that has done recent underwriting for GE.