NEW YORK – General Electric Co. on Monday said profits would meet Wall Street targets this year and grow by up to 18 percent in 2002 as strength in its long-cycle businesses fights off the effect of a weak economy.
GE noted it expects a slowdown in the global power market, but that the impact would be ``manageable.''
Chief Executive Jeff Immelt, speaking to analysts and investors in New York Monday evening, said weak economic conditions offered GE the opportunity to make acquisitions and enter new markets.
``We are delivering 11 percent earnings growth this year despite a global recession and the Sept. 11 tragedy, and we face the future environment with great confidence,'' Immelt said.
GE, whose operations range from financial services to power and aerospace, said it was comfortable with analysts' profit target of 39 cents per share for the fourth quarter and $1.41 per share for 2001. Those estimates were in line with guidance given in September when GE lowered its profit forecast due directly to the Sept. 11 attacks.
For 2002, GE expects earnings of $1.65 to $1.67 per share, which includes a gain of 4 cents to 6 cents per share for the effect of a change in accounting for goodwill and a lower estimate of long-term returns on pension assets. That would represent earnings growth of up to 18 percent versus 2001.
Even excluding the two noncash items, GE should generate profit growth of about 13 percent to 14 percent, given the targets announced Monday.
For 2003, the company said only that it expects ''double-digit'' earnings growth.
GROWTH DESPITE GLOBAL WEAKNESS
Analysts said they were pleased with Immelt's presentation. The company had previously said only that earnings in 2002 would grow by ``double-digits,'' and many analysts noted the 17 percent to 18 percent growth estimate was surprisingly positive.
Immelt was scheduled to hold another meeting with the financial community on Tuesday morning.
Wall Street pegs GE at a profit of $1.41 per share in 2001, according to tracking firm Thomson Financial/First Call. For 2002, analysts had expected earnings of $1.59 per share, with estimates ranging from $1.53 to $1.65 per share.
The company could beat its target for 2002 earnings if a ''strong recovery'' materialized during the year, GE said.
But even if 2002 is as challenging as 2001, GE said it could hit its forecast on the back of strong performance from its Power Systems, Medical Systems and GE Capital segments.
The ``long-cycle'' businesses, such as GE Power and Medical Systems, should grow earnings by 20 percent in 2002, the company said. GE Capital, GE's largest segment, should generate 15 percent growth in earnings next year.
The ``short-cycle'' businesses should post earnings roughly equal to 2001, GE said. The short-cycle segments represent about 20 percent of GE's consolidated earnings.
That would continue a trend in GE's 2001 segment results, which saw long-cycle businesses offsetting the drag of short-cycle operations.
The Power Systems division, which provides energy-related products and services from generators to fuel cells, has helped drive the company's financial results this year. In the last quarter, the segment accounted for 30 percent of GE's total quarterly earnings.
The segment should continue to grow next year, GE said, despite an expected global slowdown in the power market.
Power Systems separately announced on Monday that it bought two businesses from Honeywell International Inc. along with two sets of intellectual property and equipment assets in a move that enhances its offerings in the fuel cell, turbine and petroleum exploration industries.
Shares of GE, a component of the Dow Jones industrial average, gained 65 cents to close at $38.80 on Monday. The stock has fallen 23 percent over the past 12 months.