GE Profit Beats Forecasts; Economy 'Excellent'

General Electric Co. (GE) on Friday posted an 18 percent rise in quarterly profit, driven by broad-based growth as it received new aircraft engine service contracts and had solid orders for ultrasound equipment.

GE, which products range from gas turbines to television shows and credit cards, repeated its forecast for earnings-per-share growth in 2005 and said growth of more than 10 percent was sustainable into 2006. GE Chief Executive Jeff Immelt (search) also delivered a bullish view on the global economy, categorizing it as "excellent."

Shares of GE, based in Fairfield, Conn., rose 1 percent in early trade.

GE's fourth-quarter net profit rose to $5.38 billion, or 51 cents a share, from $4.56 billion, or 45 cents a share, a year earlier. Analysts on average forecast earnings of 50 cents a share, according to Reuters Estimates.

Revenue jumped 18 percent to $43.7 billion from $37 billion a year earlier.

"It's very positive," said Steve Roukis, director of research at Matrix Asset Advisors, which owns 1.4 million GE shares and manages $2.2 billion in assets.

"The industries GE is in are doing very well. The materials, financial and industrial sectors are all picking up."

GE reported double-digit percentage growth in earnings at nine of its 11 business segments, including a 50 percent increase at its health-care unit and a 60 percent jump at its media arm, NBC Universal.

Sales and profits at those units were buoyed in part by the acquisitions of British bioscience firm Amersham Plc (search) and Vivendi Universal Entertainment (search) in 2004.

During three years of moderate growth, Immelt has pledged GE would return to its customary double-digit profit growth in 2005 and be better positioned in high-growth markets such as health-care, security and renewable energy.

"We are very confident about achieving 10-15 percent earnings growth with strong cash flow growth and sustaining this growth into 2006 as well," Immelt said.

On a conference call, GE executives forecast a 20 percent rise in first-quarter earnings and a 15 percent rise in revenue, leading to a earnings range of 36 cents to 37 cents per share, versus analysts' expectations for 37 cents.

It forecast second-quarter profit in a range of 42 cents to 44 cents per share, compared with Wall Street's view of 42 cents.

For 2005, GE, lifted the low end of its earnings per share forecast by a penny, to a range of $1.76 to $1.83 a share, while analysts forecast EPS of $1.81, according to Reuters Estimates.

On the negative side, revenue and profit fell at GE's energy and insurance segments.

GE's energy unit is still trying to pull itself out of a downturn in the wholesale North American electricity market since 2001, while the insurance segment spun off part of its mortgage and life insurance unit, renamed Genworth Financial Inc. (GNW).

Shares of GE rose 43 cents to $35.80 on the New York Stock Exchange (search).