Investors on Friday will be looking for any bright signs of growth when General Electric reports first-quarter earnings after disappointing them for the last five quarters, but it's news about plans for its expanding energy business and any discussion of activist shareholders that'll be the most likely to be attention grabbers.
Analysts polled by FactSet Research expect the company to earn 15 cents a share, excluding any special items, compared to 21 cents a share a year ago.
FactSet's current consensus analyst revenue estimate is $26.37 billion; below first quarter 2016's $27.60 billion, and perhaps more importantly, below FactSet's December 30, $27.42 billion consensus.
The estimates matter, because the stock has suffered in the past at the hands of disappointed investors, falling after earnings reports fo the last five quarters.In March the firm disclosed a new industrial operating profit target of $17.2 billion for full-year 2017, consistent with its overall outlook for the year.
Also, the company is aiming to further reduce its manufacturing costs from a total of $24.9 billion in 2016 to $23.9 billion for 2017, down 4% year over year, with a goal of reaching $22.9 billion by 2018.
The $2 billion takeout of costs is a noticeable boost from the initial $1 billion total figure outlined at the 2016 analyst meeting. Importantly, the update shows GE's commitment to structural improvements. Even better, we view these cost targets as easier to achieve than any revenue or volume targets given the uncertainties underlying several of GE's end markets. This move provides support for EPS targets moving forward.
Investors will also be eyeing the company's energy business, an integral part of its long-term strategy but one that has suffered at the vagaries of volatile crude and natural gas markets.
Finally, watch for comments about the firm's relationship with activist investor Nelson Peltz's Trian Fund, which has been pressing the company to improve performance.
Peltz's machinations created speculation in some quarters that CEO Jeff Immelt's days might be numbered, but The Street's Jim Cramer said this week that Immelt's and GE's decision to change its incentive structure for management -- 2017 bonuses will now be tied to the achievement of these new industrial operating profit and structural cost reduction targets, have smoothed things.
GE attributed these new goals to its conversations with Trian, showing that the relationship remains constructive.
"The constructive relationship with Trian should dispel rumors, for now, of Immelt's removal, but the market will be focusing on these targets as a way to track progress further down the line," Cramer concluded.
GE shares rose 1.3% on Thursday, to $30.31.
Jim Cramer contributed to this report.