General Electric ( GE) has some promises to keep. The giant conglomerate told investors last month that it would likely
hit the high end of its earnings guidance for the first two quarters of this year. It is, therefore, expected to report first-quarter profits of 32 cents a share -- a penny better than the consensus estimate -- when it releases its latest financial results early Thursday. It also plans to beat the current second-quarter consensus estimate of 38 cents by a penny. Wall Street expects GE to keep its recent promises and possibly deliver even more upside surprises as the year wears on. Even so, analysts are focused more on the big picture than on quarterly snapshots of the company's financials. After all, GE is in the process of transforming itself into a company that can, once again, regularly deliver double-digit earnings growth. And it will be looking to showcase its progress toward that goal throughout this critical year. "The GE story is one of accelerating growth as we approach year-end and beyond, with a better mix of businesses, and not one of quarter-over-quarter EPS in 2004," Bernstein analyst Kerry Stirton wrote on Tuesday. "We have little doubt that GE merits a modest premium valuation now and, in all likelihood, a more substantial premium over the next few years." Stirton, like most of his Wall Street peers, recommends buying GE shares. The company's stock slid 8 cents, to $31.50, ahead of Thursday's earnings release.