GE continues to muddle through uncertain times
There is plenty to like in the quarterly results, and the stock's valuation is attractive.
Shares of General Electric (GE) rose in early trading even though the world's largest conglomerate posted earnings that fell short of some analysts' expectations. The company, which has weathered the uncertain economy well, is worth picking up for investors with low to moderate tolerance for risk.
Profit from continuing operations at the Fairfield, Conn. company rose 7% to $4 billion, or 38 cents a share, fueled by gains in the transportation and energy, oil & gas businesses. Revenue rose 2% to $36.5 billion. Wall Street had expected earnings of 37 cents per share on revenue of $36.8 billion, according to Reuters.
For glass-is-half-full type of investors, there is plenty in GE's earnings to like. For one, the company's industrial and finance businesses are on track to deliver double-digit earnings growth this year.
GE Capital, which had long been a drag on earnings, reported that operating profit rose 31% to $2.1 billion. It even paid a $3 billion dividend to its parent. Transportation profit soared 58% to $282 million as orders for locomotives surged. Energy infrastructure gained 13% to $1.76 billion, even though wind turbine orders plunged ahead of the expiration of a tax credit. Orders in growth markets rose 14%.
Though GE is navigating the unpredictable waters of the world economy fairly well now, the future continues to look uncertain. Many economists are predicting that growth will continue to sputter as the debt crisis in Europe rages and members of Congress try to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff. For GE this means that orders could be canceled or that customers will ask for and get steep price discounts, which would further pressure margins. The picture, however, isn't all bleak.
Growth in developing countries, key GE markets, is expected to top 5% this year, according to the World Bank. A recovery in the housing market should bolster GE's appliances business as homeowners buy newer models to make their properties more attractive to potential buyers. Any economic improvement will also help GE Capital, which lends money to businesses.
Wall Street hasn't lost faith in GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt. The average 52-week price target on the stock is $22.50, more than 10% above where it currently trades. GE's stock has a price-to-earnings ratio of about 16, well under the average for the sector of 18.45, according to Reuters. In addition, GE pays a dividend that yields 3.4%.
But investors need to have realistic expectations. GE is not a growth stock. Revenue this year is expected to rise 1.8% to $150.01 billion. That means that an economic rising tide would have to be pretty huge to make much of a difference. Nonetheless, GE can muddle through most economies just fine.
Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed stocks. Follow him on Twitter@jdberr
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