The lending arm, GE Capital, suffered huge writedowns on risky loans during the financial crisis, so GE has been focusing on its industrial businesses. Industrial sales rose during the fourth quarter and orders for equipment, an indication of future business, were up 20 percent.
The improvement led CEO Jeff Immelt to say that "GE exits 2010 with significant momentum." The company is also benefitting from the Obama administration's recent diplomatic and trade efforts with India and China.
GE, which makes products from dishwashers to wind turbines and finances large projects around the globe, said net income rose to $4.46 billion, or 42 cents per share, in the final three months of the year from $2.94 billion, or 28 cents per share, a year ago.
Earnings from continuing operations were 36 cents a share. That tops analysts' expectations for earnings of 32 cents, according to FactSet. GE said revenue grew year-over-year for the first time in nine quarters, increasing 1 percent to $41.4 billion. Wall Street expected revenue of $40.3 billion.
Shares rose 3.6 percent in premarket trading to $19.10.
Overall orders grew 12 percent from a year ago. Besides the increase in equipment orders, services business orders rose 5 percent. Immelt noted that orders grew 4 percent at GE's energy infrastructure business, which accounted for a quarter of GE's operating revenue and more than a third of GE's operating profit in 2010.
GE's total backlog stood at a record $175 billion on Dec. 31.
GE Capital experienced a surge in activity in the fourth quarter and had net income of $1.1 billion. Loan volume increased 30 percent and losses and impairments dropped by $300 million from the third quarter.
The Fairfield, Conn. company also said profit rose 38 percent at NBC Universal. GE expects to close the sale of a majority stake in NBC to Comcast this quarter.
GE has made a number of moves to expand its energy business.
It agreed in October to buy turbine-maker Dresser Inc. for $3 billion. In December, GE said it would acquire Wellstream Holdings PLC, which makes pipes and other equipment for deep-water oil production, for $1.3 billion. And GE said last week it would buy electrical equipment maker Lineage Power Holdings Inc. for $520 million.
The company also has been a big winner in President Barack Obama's efforts to expand U.S. businesses in emerging economies. It signed $1.6 billion worth of deals in India on the heels of Obama's recent trip there, including
$750 million in contracts from India's Reliance Power to help expand the Samalkot power plant.
On Wednesday, as Chinese President Hu Jintao visited the U.S., the White House said GE would form a clean-energy venture with Shenhua Energy Co. GE estimates the deal has the potential to generate up to $2.5 billion in U.S. exports.
Immelt has said he expects profits will be driven by industrial growth in China and in November pledged that the company will invest $2 billion through 2012 to help China tackle its pressing energy and infrastructure needs.