General Electric ( GE) kept its word. As promised, the huge conglomerate delivered a first-quarter profit of 32 cents a share -- up 1% from a year ago -- that matched the top of management's guidance. Analysts polled by Thomson First Call had expected a penny less. In the latest quarter, only two divisions -- energy and insurance -- failed to post double-digit earnings growth. But the company suggested that investors direct their attention away from at least one of those units. "Events or trends in a particular segment may be so significant as to obscure patterns and trends of our ... businesses in total," GE explained on Thursday. "For this reason, we believe that investors may find it useful to see our first quarter 2004 earnings without the decline in sales of large gas turbines in the U.S. and decline in non-cash earnings from our U.S. pension plans." The company instead highlighted its strengths. It pointed out that industrial orders had jumped by 20% in the latest quarter. And sales by its "growth platforms" had rocketed 29%. In a conference call with analysts early Thursday, GE CEO Jeff Immelt celebrated the company's latest quarter and promised even better results to come. "This is really the broadest growth we've seen since the first half of 2000," he said. "The company is in great shape, and we have very good momentum going forward." GE went on to tighten its full-year guidance from $1.55 to $1.65 per share to $1.59 to $1.65 per share, excluding the impact of dilution. It said it will offer firmer guidance in 30 days. GE's stock inched up 25 cents to $31.65 early Thursday.
Still, profits actually fell at two business units. The energy division, hurt by the glutted U.S. power market, saw first-quarter turbine orders tumble by one-third since last year. However, the company still sold more turbines than at least one bond analyst had expected. And it continues to enjoy growth in international sales.