Cost cuts help GE profit beat as order book swells

A General Electric GEnx aircraft engine.
Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A General Electric GEnx aircraft engine.

General Electric beat quarterly profit expectations by a penny, helped by cost cuts and sales of jet engines and oil pumps, sending shares up 4.5 percent on Friday.

Chief Executive Jeff Immelt said he was bullish on the company's prospects for the rest of the year as GE tries to reduce the size of its finance unit and boosts industrial-related sales.

GE said its order book, an indicator of how much work it has received from customers, was up 4 percent globally and 20 percent in the United States, jumps that surprised Wall Street.

After the earnings announcement, the manufacturing conglomerate saw its shares rise in pre-market trading. (Click here to get the latest quotes for GE.)

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"This is as close as GE comes to a positive surprise as possible," said Tim Ghriskey of Solaris Asset Management, which owns GE shares.

Some analysts were wary though, hoping the conglomerate will be able to achieve its long-stated goal of boosting 2013 margins by 0.7 percent.

"That will require Herculean improvement in the second half" of 2013, said Nick Heymann, an analyst at William Blair & Co, which trades GE shares.

The trick is for GE to turn around orders quickly so it can collect revenue from customers. GE cannot recognize the $223 billion in orders as revenue until it actually delivers products to customers.

"To me the backlog on orders is a mixed bag because it continues to reoccur," said Oliver Pursche, president of Gary Goldberg Financial Services, which owns GE shares. "That to me speaks of a business management issue."

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The world's largest jet engine manufacturer announced more than $26 billion in jet engine orders last month at the Paris Air Show. Earlier this month, it closed on its nearly $3 billion buyout of oilfield pump maker Lufkin, broadening its offerings of pumps that pull oil and gas to the surface.

Sales in both its oil & gas and aviation units rose 9 percent in the quarter.

Energy and aviation are considered two of GE's strongest growth areas, drawing the most optimism from shareholders.

"Among investors, I think there was quite a bit of concern that this quarter was going to be a more challenging one," said Jack DeGan, chief investment officer at Harbor Advisory Corp, which owns GE shares. "I was pleasantly surprised that the quarter came in as strong as it did."

GE Capital Shrinking

The shrinking of the finance unit, GE Capital, dented overall results, though it has been expected on Wall Street and has been CEO Immelt's long-stated goal.

GE Capital's revenue fell 3 percent from the same period last year, and its earnings dropped 9 percent.

The company transferred its chief financial officer, Keith Sherin, to run GE Capital earlier this month, a move designed to help achieve the goal.

GE Capital nearly sank the whole company during the 2008 recession, highlighting why Immelt and his team want to shrink it. Still, the unit brought in nearly one-third of overall quarterly revenue and wrote a $1.9 billion dividend check to its parent company during the quarter, showing just how large it remains.

Immelt expects GE Capital to pay $6.5 billion in dividends this year to the company.

Last month, U.S. regulators said GE Capital was "systemically important" to the U.S. financial system, a designation commonly known as "too big to fail." That effectively means it will be scrutinized more closely by the U.S. Federal Reserve and may require additional capital reserves.

"GE Capital is shrinking quicker than expected," said Perry Adams of Northwestern Bank, which owns GE shares. That's "good from a capital allocation standpoint."

Across the company, second-quarter net income fell to $3.69 billion, or 36 cents per share, in the second quarter, from $4.01 billion, or 38 cents per share, a year earlier.

Analysts expected earnings of 35 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Revenue fell 4 percent to $35.1 billion. Analysts looked for $35.56 billion.

GE has aggressively cut costs, slicing more than $474 million so far this year. The company plans to keep research spending flat in 2013.

The stock was up 4.5 percent, or $1.06, to $24.69 in morning trading even as the broader markets fell. Shares have jumped 12.6 percent so far this year.