The largest industrial conglomerate in the United States, General Electric (GE – Free General Electric Stock Report), reported March-quarter results that slightly exceeded both our and Wall Street's estimates.
After backing out one-time items, such as a $200 million charge for the exit of an Irish mortgage business, share net came in at $0.34, a penny above the consensus expectation. Sales were $35.2 billion, well ahead of the $34.7 billion anticipated. Investors should note that even though this figure represents a more than 8% dip from the year-earlier tally, it is not truly reflective of the company's health. For starters, the ongoing reduction of the GE Capital arm are in full swing, and 2011 numbers included the entertainment venture NBC Universal, of which a majority stake was recently sold to Comcast. In fact, revenues at the company's pure-play industrial operations rose a strong 14% on a year-over-year basis.
A concerted effort is clearly under way to get back to GE’s industrial roots. And the timing of such an endeavor seems perfect, as we envision slow-but-steady economic growth in the coming quarters that should lead to improved spending on the industrial front. Already, we are seeing strong investments in energy production and increased usage of natural gas-fired electric turbines. These improvements are helping to negate lessening demand for high-end medical imaging devices, particularly in many of the struggling markets of Europe.
In that vein, a pronounced push into Australia is well under way. That nation's growing role as a supplier of liquefied natural gas (LNG), iron ore, and wind power has not gone unnoticed at GE. In fact, Australia is set to pass Qatar as the largest exporter of LNG in the next eight years. A plan to secure roughly $6 billion in contracts by the end of the decade has been hatched, and with nearly $180 billion worth of potential projects littering the landscape, we like the company's chances for success. Growth areas like Australia may account for half of GE's industrial revenue by 2020, up from 37% of its $94 billion in industrial sales in 2011.
The company seems determined to learn from the mistakes made during the financial crisis. At that time, GE's huge finance arm battered aggregate results and forced the conglomerate to cut its dividend in 2009 for the first time since the depths of the Great Depression. Over the past few years, GE Capital has licked its wounds and begun the long process of recovery, and in turn, has been providing the vast majority of the company's earnings growth. Currently, the passing of the torch is clearly beginning, as financial operations are de-emphasized, and industrial products such as jet engines and power generators once again become a larger piece of the puzzle.
On the expense side of the ledger, CEO Jeffrey Immelt has set a goal of cutting the company's operating costs by 0.5% of sales by the end of 2012. Such a target equates to about $750 million in expenditures coming off the books over the next eight months. Management has intimated that even though industrial operations are on the incline, the best way to weather what still may well turn out to be an elongated period of economic instability is to pare expenses.
This trimming is already factored into our $1.55 share-net estimate, which we are maintaining at this time for 2012. Conversely, our revenue tally has been adjusted to reflect the stout first-quarter showing and we now anticipate sales will eclipse the $150 billion mark.
After a tumultuous period, this Dow-30 component seems to have righted the ship and returned to the steady growth path it had been on for decades before the most recent recession. Investors have grown to expect outperformance from this company, and that phenomenon is evidenced in the marginal upward movement in GE's share price following this favorable earnings release.
In closing, this equity holds mass appeal to the investment community and could well be the cornerstone for those just beginning to build a well-balanced, diversified portfolio. Some skeptics point to the income component as a negative, but it is worth noting that the dividend has been lifted four times since the aforementioned cut in 2009. Yes, it is still at 55% of the level it was before the financial crisis; however, we envision a rapid ramp up assuming all remains sound in the industrial world.
About The Company: Founded in 1892, General Electric Company has grown into one of the largest and most diversified industrial companies in the world. Its variety of segments include Energy Infrastructure (30% of ’11 revenues); Aviation (13%); Healthcare (12%); Transportation (3%); Home & Business Solutions (6%); and Capital Finance (31%). On a geographic scale, more than half of General Electric’s revenues came from overseas in 2011.
At the time of this article’s writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.