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The company said the performance reflected campaign by the largest U.S. conglomerate to boost margins as well as higher sales of equipment used in oil and gas production.
The growth reflected Chief Executive Jeff Immelt's shift in GE's portfolio deeper into the energy equipment business. GE is the world's biggest maker of jet engines and electric turbines,
"The outlook for developed markets remains uncertain, but we are seeing growth in China and the resource rich countries," Immelt said in a statement.
The order backlog, watched by investors as an important indicator of future sales growth, hit $210 billion in the fourth quarter, up from $203 billion in the third quarter.
"The backlog was a really good number. I didn't expect to see a $7 billion, 3.5 percent rise in the backlog," said Jack De Gan, chief investment officer at Harbor Advisory Corp, which holds GE shares. "Orders in the fourth quarter must have been really good for the industrial side."
Solid demand in China and oil-producing countries helped to offset unsteady economies at home and in Europe, Immelt said.
Profit increased across all divisions, with the jet engine unit notching 22 percent growth and GE Oil and Gas, which makes equipment used in energy production, up 14 percent.
Profit at the GE Capital finance arm, in the process of being scaled back, rose 6 percent.
"They saw some good organic growth in the industrial part of their business. GE Capital was a strong contributor," said Oliver Pursche, president of Gary Goldberg Financial Services, a GE shareholder.
Over the past few years, Fairfield, Conn.-based GE has boosted its position in the energy industry, broadening its lineup of equipment used in oil and gas production and mining, with an eye toward capitalizing on surging U.S. natural gas production. GE also makes medical equipment and railroad locomotives.
At the same time, Immelt has made cost-cutting a major thrust across the company, with an eye toward raising operating profit to about 15.8 percent of sales by the end of 2013.
At Thursday's close, GE shares were up about 12 percent during the past 12 months, topping the 9 percent rise in the Dow Jones industrial average.
GE kicks off a wave of earnings reports from the nation's largest manufacturers, with United Technologies, 3M and Honeywell International all due next week.
-Reuters contributed to this report.
Disclosure: General Electric is the minority owner of NBC Universal, the parent company of CNBC and CNBC.com.