GE profit falls 22%, but results contains no surprises

ByUsa Today
October 12, 2008, 12:46 PM

FAIRFIELD, Conn. -- General Electric ge, which makes everything from jet engines to water treatment systems and owns NBC Universal, said Friday its third-quarter profit fell 22%, hurt by its financing business.

GE's results spared investors any nasty surprises, meeting the lower end of the company's revised earnings forecast from last month. GE, a bellwether for the U.S. economy, has blamed softening profits on its financial arm, battered since April by frozen credit markets and waning confidence in global financial systems.

GE said net income fell to $4.3 billion, or 43 cents a share, compared with $5.56 billion, or 54 cents a share, a year earlier.

GE's revenue totaled $47.23 billion, up 11%.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters forecast earnings of 45 cents a share on revenue of $47.34 billion.

"What the results show is that the wheels are not off the bus," said Daniel Holland, analyst at Morningstar in Chicago. "What was priced into the market was that the wheels were falling off."

Results were dragged down by a 33% profit decline at its capital finance business and an 82% drop in profit at GE's consumer and industrial unit, which makes appliances and other products. GE plans to spin off or sell its appliances unit.

GE last month lowered its quarterly forecast to between 43 cents and 48 cents a share from its prior range of 50 cents to 54 cents a share.

GE Capital is the conglomerate's financial business that provides consumer finance in car loans, mortgages outside the United States, credit cards and other products. Its commercial side finances real estate, corporate lending and leasing. GE also finances energy projects and airline leasing.

Its profit totaled $2 billion, down from $3 billion in the third quarter last year.

"While GE Capital is not immune from the current environment, we continued to outperform our financial services peers," CEO Jeff Immelt said.

The company's overall third-quarter performance was in line with its revised guidance, he said. He highlighted GE strengths in its energy business, which earned $1.4 billion in the quarter, up 31%, and NBC Universal, which benefited from its Olympics coverage in Beijing in August. The unit's profit totaled $645 million, up 10% from a year earlier.

Some analysts have said GE should sell NBC because it does not fit the company's industrial and commercial business mix. However, Immelt has defended the media franchise, and its performance — particularly in comparison with GE's faltering financial business — gave him ammunition this quarter.

"Cable and films had a solid quarter and the success of the Beijing Olympics showed the value of the network model," he said.

Immelt also said GE has taken steps to reduce its leverage and improve liquidity to protect its AAA rating. Earlier this month, GE raised $12 billion in a common stock offering and $3 billion from preferred shares sold to Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

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