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Updated from 9:53 a.m. EDT

General Electric


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


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


, 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.