BOSTON (Scott Malone) - General Electric Co posted quarterly results that blew past Wall Street expectations, joining a wave of better-than-expected earnings in the U.S. manufacturing sector.
The largest U.S. conglomerate also raised its quarterly dividend by 1 cent to 15 cents per share, its third increase in the payout in the past year. Its shares rose nearly 4 percent in premarket trading.
The first-quarter results reflected revenue growth across all of its industrial and financial businesses, with profit at GE Capital more than tripling and demand for railroad locomotives also bouncing back.
"You have got growth coming out of every segment of GE, which is quite encouraging. Infrastructure orders are up 13 percent, which I also think is a very strong indication of a company executing on a strategy of getting back to the core energy and technology infrastructure businesses," said Daniel Holland, equity analyst at Morningstar in Chicago. "It's also quite encouraging to see the dividend bump up one more time."
The world's biggest maker of jet engines and electric turbines said earnings attributable to common shareholders came to $3.36 billion, or 31 cents per share, up from $1.87 billion, or 17 cents per share, a year earlier.
Revenue rose 6 percent to $38.45 billion.
Factoring out one-time items, earnings came to 33 cents per share, easily exceeding analysts' average estimate of 28 cents compiled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Revenue also topped Wall Street's $34.64 billion forecast -- which would have represented a decline, rather than a rise.
"This is a superb turnaround," said Howard Wheeldon, senior strategist at BGC Partners in London. "GE is reflecting an improvement in the U.S. economy and indeed more importantly it reflects the improvement of the global economy."
The Fairfield, Connecticut-based company has been cutting back its GE Capital unit, which Chief Executive Jeff Immelt wants to represent 30 percent to 40 percent of earnings, rather than the more than half it generated before the 2008 financial crisis.
Refocusing GE on its industrial businesses has meant lowering revenue. The company also sold a 51 percent stake in the NBC Universal media business to Comcast Corp.
Expectations are high for manufacturers this earnings season. On Wednesday, United Technologies Corp, Honeywell International Inc and Eaton Corp reported results that topped analysts' expectations and raised their profit forecasts for the year.
Shares of GE were up 3.8 percent at $21.17 in trading before the market opened.
The stock has been particularly strong of late. At Wednesday's close, it had gained 10.8 percent since the start of the year, well ahead of the 4.4 percent gain in the broad Standard & Poor's 500 index.
GE has come under fire over the past month for its low 2010 U.S. tax bill, although it has denied reports that it paid no income taxes at all last year.
GE has also returned to the takeover trail in the past six months, spending some $14 billion on acquisitions, primarily to boost its presence in the energy sector.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Additional reporting by Nick Zieminski in New York, Christoph Steitz in Frankfurt, Harpreet Bhal and Dominic Lau in London; Editing by Bernard Orr, Lisa Von Ahn and John Wallace)
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