Dow-30 component General Electric (GE – Free General Electric Stock Report), one of the largest and most diversified companies in the world with interests ranging from jet engines to wind turbines, has released fourth-quarter results this morning that Wall Street was very pleased with, at first blush. In early trading, the shares were up more than 2%.
Revenues for the final term of 2012 were $39.3 billion, about $200 million higher than consensus expectations. This amount brought the full-year sum just north of $147.3 billion. Sales at the company's bread-and-butter industrial units climbed 4% in the December period, excluding the effect of acquisitions. Moreover, if we back out foreign exchange and the declining demand for wind turbines brought on by an expiring tax credit, top-line growth would have approached 7%.
Adjusted income from operations for the fourth quarter of 2012 came in at $0.44 a share, a penny ahead of consensus and $0.02 above our call. All told, the full-year bottom-line tally came to $1.52, a year-over-year improvement of 16%. Profits increased across all divisions: the jet engine branch led the way with a 22% uptick, while oil and gas rose 14%. GE's recent performance is even more impressive when taking into consideration the still-soft global economy and the fact that GE is unwinding certain aspects of its portfolio.
On that topic, the reshaping of General Electric continues to evolve. Most of the headlines go to the trimming down of its finance arm GE Capital, and this is a vital maneuver, as this portion of the business grew far too large and was a source of real concern during the financial crisis, but there is more to the story than just this division. The core strategy is to return GE to its industrial roots. With that, commercial real estate holdings are also being pared. Eventually, industrial forays will constitute a larger majority of the overall business, with complex industrial equipment being a strength. Recent acquisitions have opened doors in the oil and gas industry, and we anticipate further spending to expand this platform. This stratagem also plays into management's plans to capitalize on growth in emerging markets. During the fourth quarter, the company announced new contracts with Brazilian energy giant Petrobras and with petroleum producer and fellow Dow member Chevron (CVX - Free Chevron Stock Report) (in Angola) to help extract oil from deep waters. The original plan was to benefit from surging U.S. natural gas production, but opportunities have been plentiful since that decision was made and GE leadership has taken the ball and run with it.
The order backlog, an important indicator of future sales growth, swelled by $7 billion sequentially, to $210 billion. This 3.5% surge depicts a much rosier top-line landscape than many had been envisioning on the industrial front. This metric is also probably a primary reason why the shares responded favorably to today's release. Along with the strength in the aforementioned subsectors, GE is also having success in less high-profile pockets of the industrial world. Sometimes it can get lost in the shuffle that the company still makes refrigerators, medical equipment, and railroad locomotives, but we digress. The bottom line is that the backlog is rising sharply, and the economic improvement we envision during 2013 should only serve to aid that cause.
Speaking of 2013, no fresh guidance had been provided as of the time of this report. We do know that cost cutting will be at the crux of CEO Jeff Immelt's plans for the campaign. With that, we think earnings may well climb 15% this year, to $1.75 a share. This call is a nickel higher than our previous expectation. Similarly, we are adding $250 million to our revenue estimate, which now stands at $151.3 billion. Investors should note that this figure may prove a touch conservative, given the strong top-line momentum the company displayed in the fourth quarter.
From an investment perspective, the case for General Electric shares remains solid. This blue chip looks to be regaining steam after taking a sizable hit at the time of the most recent recession. Results are on the rise, and this equity's dividend has begun the climb back to its previous heights with an increase to $0.19 a quarter beginning in the current term. Buy-and-hold investors might consider making this selection a cornerstone of their portfolios.
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.