GE earnings jump 49 percent

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NEW YORK General Electric Co.'s (GE) net income rose 49 percent in the third quarter to $3.49 billion as its recovery from the 2008 financial crisis continues.

GE earned 33 cents per share in the quarter, up from 22 cents per share a year earlier. On an adjusted basis, GE earned 36 cents per share, matching the expectations of analysts surveyed by FactSet.

Revenue rose $1 billion, or 3 percent, to $36.35 billion. But analysts were looking for revenue of $36.95 billion and GE shares fell nearly 2 percent in premarket trading.

During last year's third quarter the company repaid $3 billion to Warren Buffett's Berskshire Hathaway for its investment in GE during the depths of the financial crisis. Compared with last year's adjusted results, GE's earnings per share rose 13 percent.

GE's size and global scope gives it a unique perspective on economic growth around the world. On Friday, CEO Jeff Immelt said the U.S. economic recovery is slow, and being held back by political and fiscal uncertainty. The European economy continues to struggle. Immelt described growth in Asia and other resource-rich regions as "slower but stable."

He said China, Russia, Latin America and the Middle East will have "decent" opportunities for the rest of this year and next year.

"Europe is going to be a grind," he said.

Immelt said globally the picture next year will look much like it did this year, with pockets of weakness and strength. The one major variable, he said, was the so-called fiscal cliff looming in the U.S. - the automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that will kick in at the beginning of next year unless Congress can agree on a new budget plan. He does expect the standoff to get resolved "one way or another."

GE, based in Fairfield, Connecticut, was shaken during the financial crisis when investors began to worry that its enormous banking arm, GE Capital, would fail. It is now paring down GE Capital and other non-industrial businesses such as commercial real estate.

GE said Friday it accelerated its efforts to reduce assets in GE Capital to $425 billion by the end of this year, a move applauded by investors. That lowered the company's revenue forecast, however. Revenue is now expected to rise 3 percent for the year instead of 5 percent.

GE is increasingly focused on its industrial operations such as manufacturing jet engines, refrigerators and providing equipment and services to energy companies.

Revenue from the industrial divisions rose 8 percent in the third quarter and is up 10 percent so far this year.

Orders for new equipment and services were down 5 percent compared with last year, mainly because wind turbine orders have fallen dramatically because a key U.S. federal subsidy for wind power is scheduled to expire at year end. Excluding the dip in wind turbine orders, the company's industrial orders were up 4 percent.

The company's energy infrastructure and transportation divisions posted the strongest growth. Energy infrastructure profits rose 13 percent and transportation profits rose 35 percent.

The relatively weak global economy is forcing GE to cut back, though, to protect profits. The company said it is on track to cut $2.8 billion this year as part of its "simplification" efforts.

This is helping profit margins. GE's operating profit margin grew to 14.4 percent from 13.7 percent in the third quarter.