Earnings at General Electric Co. rose 77 percent in the first quarter as its financial services business continued to rebound. But Wall Street was expecting stronger revenue from GE's industrial side and shares fell.
GE, which makes everything from light bulbs to wind turbines and health care equipment, reported net income of $3.43 billion, or 31 cents per share, for the three months ended March 31. That compares with $1.95 billion, or 17 cents per share, in the same quarter last year.
Revenue increased 6 percent to $38.45 billion.
The results beat Wall Street forecasts, yet shares dropped about 2 percent. Analysts said they were disappointed that revenue for GE's industrial businesses rose only 5 percent. GE's smaller industrial rivals, Danaher Corp. and United Technologies, both rsaid first-quarter revenue increased 11 percent.
The company's lending arm, GE Capital, has experienced big profit increases during the past few quarters. That's a sharp contrast from 2008 and 2009, when risky loans forced GE to book huge write-downs in its lending business during the financial crisis.
"As today's results show, GE has emerged from the recession a stronger, more competitive company," GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt said in a statement.
Joel Levington, an analyst at Hyperion Brookfield Asset Management, said the rebound at GE Capital shows that the economy is slowly getting better. Many GE Capital customers, primarily medium-sized businesses, are no longer struggling to make loan payments, Levington said.
"The economy is going to be choppy this year," he said. "You're going to see lots of starts and stops along the way, but there's clearly going to be improvement."
GE Capital's profits more than tripled to $1.8 billion in the quarter. Revenue rose 3 percent and it took a smaller provision against possible loan losses.
GE's transportation, health care, aviation, and home and business solutions businesses also posted increased earnings.
Profit at GE's energy infrastructure business, however, declined 7 percent to $1.38 billion. GE, the country's top wind turbine supplier, saw demand for its turbines fall as low prices for natural gas made wind power more expensive in comparison. Also, with demand for electric power falling in the U.S., states are able to meet targets for renewable energy use without investing more in wind power projects.
Last year, installation of wind power capacity fell by half from 2009 levels.
Still, Levington said, the rest of GE's energy business fared better than expected.
GE has spent about $11 billion recently to acquire a number of energy companies, including French equipment developer Converteam, Dresser Inc., Wellstream Holdings, Lineage Power Holdings and Well Support.
The company also sold a controlling stake in NBC Universal to Comcast Corp. during the quarter for $6.2 billion in cash. GE now owns 49 percent of NBC.
GE will raise its quarterly dividend by a penny to 15 cents in the third quarter. In February 2009, the company was forced to slash its dividend from 31 cents to 10 cents to conserve cash.
Shares fell 42 cents to $19.98 in midday trading.