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General Electric (GE) Posts 4% Rise in Net Income

General Electric Co. (GE) fourth-quarter net income rose 4%, amid continuing strength in its infrastructure and commercial finance divisions.

The Fairfield conglomerate reported net income of $6.7 billion, or 66 cents a share, versus $6.44 billion, or 62 cents a share, a year earlier. Excluding discontinued operations, earnings from continuing operations rose to 68 cents a share from 58 cents. The company had predicted earnings from continuing operations of 67 cents to 69 cents a share. Revenue grew 18% to $48.59 billion, with more than half coming from outside the U.S.

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GE, which makes transportation equipment, offers financial services and operates television network NBC, said it booked 20 per cent or more profit growth from its energy, aviation, oil and gas, transportation and water segments during the fourth quarter. The company said its financial services earnings grew 37 per cent globally, as strong risk management helped the business weather volatile market conditions.

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Orders increased 18% to $27 billion, exceeding the company’s expectation of 15% growth. Infrastructure earnings, which represent sales of aircraft engines, gas turbines and locomotives, rose 26% as revenue climbed 30%. The aviation and oil and gas units led the division’s gains.

“We sustained our focus on margins,” said Chairman and Chief Executive Jeff Immelt. “Our industrial profit margins expanded [0.7 percentage point] for the year, driven by pricing and productivity.”

GE Money’s profit grew 7% on revenue growth of 22%, while profits at GE’s commercial-finance business grew 9% amid a 9% rise in revenue. GE currently is courting a buyer or partner for its consumer-finance business in order to focus more attention on its industrial operations, which is projected to constitute as much as 60% of earnings during the next few years. The move would respond to investor concerns that GE has become too heavily weighted in financial services, which make up more than 50% of earnings.

NBC Universal’s profit grew 10% while revenue rose 8%, with the unit’s film segment leading the charge with its best year ever. Health-care earnings fell 4% as revenue rose 6%.

The bottom line at NBC Universal during the fourth quarter was not damaged by the writers strike, and the same should hold true this quarter.

Jeff Immelt praised Jeff Zucker, NBC Uni’s CEO and his team for their preparation ahead the WGA strike that began Nov. 5. He hinted that Zucker, is similarly preparing for an actors strike that could happen this year.

The company bought back $13.9 billion worth of its common shares during the year, completing its expanded $27 billion share repurchase program one year ahead of schedule.

Looking ahead, Mr. Immelt predicted 2008 continuing earnings of “at least $2.42,” reiterating an outlook given last month. For the first quarter, he expects continuing earnings of 50 cents to 53 cents a share.

Immelt said global and infrastructure markets remain strong. “Every place we went, there’s a need for power, there’s a need for planes, and there’s just no signs that this global infrastructure boom is slowing at all,” he said. However, Immelt said the U.S. consumer is “going to be tough.” GE will have lower gains in 2008, “but we’re still seeing great global growth in assets and margins,” he said.

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Option Strike
GE 34.24(-0.35) GECZ 08 MAR 32.5 (58) 2.46 7.2 2.3 2.3
GE 34.24(-0.35) GECG 08 MAR 35.0 (58) 0.99 2.9 3 5.3
(For more details click the ticker symbol above)

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