General Electric Doesn't Disappoint

General Electric's ( GE) first-quarter earnings rose 8% from a year ago, matching estimates, as nine of the company's 11 main business lines posted double-digit profit gains.

The industrial, media and finance company earned $3.24 billion, or 32 cents a share, in the latest quarter compared with $3 billion, or 30 cents a share, last year. The year-ago quarter included an accounting change that reduced net income by $215 million, or 2 cents a share. Total revenue rose 10% from last year to $33.35 billion.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call were forecasting earnings of 32 cents a share on revenue of $31.74 billion. The shares were recently trading on the Instinet premarket session for $31.75, up from Wednesday's 4 p.m. EDT close of $31.40.

The company reiterated its expectation for double-digit profit growth in 2005.

Among segments, GE's consumer finance revenue soared 30% to $3.59 billion in the quarter, while health care revenue rose 17% to $2.50 billion, commercial finance rose 13% to $5.39 billion, advanced materials rose 12% to $1.9 billion, and NBC revenue rose 8% to $1.58 billion. The company's energy division saw revenue contract 12% to $3.87 billion, while insurance revenue slipped 7% to $5.95 billion.

On the income line, advanced materials profit rose 40% to $171 million, NBC profit rose 15% to $394 million, transportation profit rose 15% to $637 million, consumer and industrial profit rose 16% to $149 million, and consumer finance profit rose 10% to $602 million. The loss in equipment and other services narrowed 53% to $122 million, while profit in the energy segment fell by 28% to $650 million and profit in insurance fell 20% to $410 million.

The Fairfield, Conn., company said cash from operating activities rose 67% in the first quarter over last year, while total industrial orders for the quarter grew 20%. Excluding noncash earnings from GE's U.S. pension plans and the performance of the energy division, which GE thinks is in the final year of lower earnings from declining gas turbine sales, overall first-quarter earnings increased 16%.

"During the quarter, we also made excellent progress on the transformation we started last year to expand our growth rate and increase returns," the company said, adding that it completed its Amersham acquisition Thursday and expects to complete the merger of NBC with Vivendi Universal Entertainment next month. "These actions, and the continuing strength of the balance of our businesses, position us for double-digit earnings growth in 2005."

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