General Electric (GE) has reported a 2.5 per cent rise in profit from continuing operations, topping Wall Street (WS) expectations, as solid demand in the United States and emerging markets offset weakness in Europe.
The largest US conglomerate by revenue stuck with its forecast for the rest of 2012, saying it would increase earnings at a double-digit per centage rate by pushing profit margins higher.
In a move intended in part to cut costs, GE said it will break up its big energy division into three separate units.
“The environment continues to be challenging,” Chief Executive Jeff Immelt said on a conference call with investors. He said the US economy was stable, adding that “Europe remains very tough, but within our expectations.”
GE’s industrial sales in Europe were down 7 per cent in the quarter, but up 6 per cent in the United States and 24 per cent higher in China, said Chief Financial Officer Keith Sherin. Overall revenue rose 2.5 per cent, but missed expectations.
The company, the world’s biggest maker of electric turbines and jet engines, posted profit of 38 cents per share, excluding one-time items, a penny above analysts’ average estimate, according to Thomson Reuters. It excludes 5 cents in charges from its former US subprime mortgage unit and Japanese consumer finance business.
GE’s report followed two days of stronger-than-expected earnings from other industrial companies, including Textron Inc and Honeywell International Inc, indicating multinational companies were finding a way to manage through a rough economy.
“GE had the perfect opportunity to bring expectations down and blame it on Europe and that would have been the tell-tale move that would have said, ‘OK, GE is beginning to suffer here in this environment.’ And they didn’t do that,” said Jack De Gan, chief investment officer at Harbor Advisory Corp in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
GE shares rose 2.4 per cent to $20.28 near midday on the New York Stock Exchange.
As of on Thursday’s close, the stock was up about 10.8 per cent so far this year, outpacing the 5.7 per cent gain in the Dow Jones industrial average, of which the stock is the sole remaining original component.
The company has been cutting costs, particularly in Europe, by combining business units and reducing the number of executives and support staff needed.
“GE Capital led the way on this,” by combining its consumer and commercial finance units in Europe, Sherin said. “We’ve consolidated different sub-business operations under one set of senior leaders.” The company also said it will split up its $50 billion Energy Infrastructure unit, created in a 2008 restructuring, into three separate divisions, reporting directly to Immelt.
The restructuring, once complete, will cut annual expenses by $200 million to $300 million a year, executives said.
John Krenicki, a 50-year-old GE vice chairman who runs the division, plans to leave the company at the end of the year, GE officials said. “We discussed him taking other roles within the company, subsequent roles within the company and I think his sense was it was time for him to think about other things he can do,” Immelt said.
Many former GE executives have gone on to run other large public companies, including James McNerney, who now heads Boeing Co, and Joseph Hogan, who serves as CEO of Swiss engineering group ABB Ltd.
GE declined to make Krenicki available for an interview.
GE broke up the other big division that came out of the 2008 restructuring -its Technology Infrastructure arm that included aviation, locomotives and healthcare equipment -in 2010.
John Rice, the GE vice chairman who headed that unit, has moved to Hong Kong to oversee GE’s foreign operations.
The energy arm, GE’s largest industrial unit, was one of its strongest performers in the quarter, with profit jumping 13 per cent on a 15 per cent rise in sales.
GE has stepped up its presence in the energy sector over the past couple of years, making more than $11 billion in acquisitions and expanding beyond its historic core of making electricity-producing turbines to offer more equipment used in oil and gas production.