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UPDATE 4-GE profit tops views as cost cuts drive margins; shares up
October 17, 2014 / 11:20 AM / 3 years ago

UPDATE 4-GE profit tops views as cost cuts drive margins; shares up

(Adds CFO comment, fourth-quarter outlook)

By Lewis Krauskopf

Oct 17 (Reuters) - General Electric Co reported a slightly higher-than-expected quarterly profit on Friday, with cost cuts that helped boost margins across its industrial businesses offsetting revenue that missed analysts’ targets.

Shares of GE rose 3.1 percent to $25.01 as the U.S. conglomerate posted a 22 percent jump in orders for jet engines, locomotives and other industrial equipment and services.

GE reported a 4 percent rise in organic revenue, which excludes acquisitions, at its industrial manufacturing businesses, where Chief Executive Officer Jeff Immelt is increasingly focusing the company.

Although that quarterly growth missed some analysts’ expectations, GE said such revenue was on track for the higher end of its projected 2014 range of 4 percent to 7 percent growth.

Reaching that high end “would be quite a pickup,” said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer at Solaris Asset Management, which owns GE shares.

”They were able to engineer the earnings in industrials,“ Ghriskey said. ”It’s just that the revenues were relatively weak.

“The stock is reflecting more forward-looking statements.”

Like those of other diverse U.S. manufacturers, GE’s shares have underperformed the broad market this year amid concerns about a soft global economy.

Asked on an analysts’ call about the global economy, Immelt said: “The underlying activity is still reasonably healthy, but not universal.” He added that “the U.S. is probably the best we’ve seen it since the financial crisis.”

Immelt wants to boost GE’s earnings contribution from industrials businesses to 75 percent by 2016 from 55 percent last year, while reducing exposure to its financing unit.

GE’s third-quarter net income rose 10.8 percent to $3.54 billion, or 35 cents per share.

Excluding pension costs and other items, earnings of 38 cents per share topped analysts’ average estimate by 1 cent, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Revenue rose 1 percent to $36.17 billion, below the $36.79 billion analysts expected.

Sales fell 2 percent in the power and water segment, which sells energy-producing turbines and is GE’s biggest industrial division. But GE projected fourth-quarter sales growth of at least 10 percent in the division. The fourth quarter overall looks “very strong,” Chief Financial Officer Jeff Bornstein told analysts.

The outlook for GE’s unit selling oil and gas equipment has been a concern for investors with oil prices near four-year lows.

“We’re certainly cautious,” Bornstein told Reuters. “If energy prices stay low for an extended period of time, it may delay how big international or national oil companies think about project investment down the road.”

GE’s industrial profit margin was 16.3 percent, up 0.9 percentage points, with GE pointing to cost cuts.

GE has targeted industrial profit margins of 17 percent by 2016, up from 15.7 percent last year. The quarter’s expansion indicated the company was “well on their way” to that goal, said Perry Adams, portfolio manager at Northwestern Bank. (Reporting by Lewis Krauskopf; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn; and Peter Galloway)

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