December 15, 2009 / 9:53 PM / in 9 years

UPDATE 3-GE sees flat 2010, to invest in core businesses

 * Sees flat earnings across core industrial operations
 * Expects profit down at NBC Universal due to Olympics
 * CEO says ‘worst is behind us’ in financial services
 * Acquisition activity would focus on core businesses-CEO
 * Stock down 1 percent  (Recasts first sentence, adds CEO comments, updates stock price, adds other details)
 By Scott Malone
 NEW YORK, Dec 15 (Reuters) - General Electric Co (GE.N) (GE.N) expects to record flat profit across its big industrial units next year, as a sluggish global economy crimps sales for jet engines, electric turbines and other heavy equipment.
 The largest U.S. conglomerate believes that the worst of the financial crisis is behind and is ready to invest in the core businesses it will retain as it trims back GE Capital and sells a majority stake in its NBC Universal media arm, Chief Executive Jeff Immelt told investors on Tuesday.
 “We’ve positioned the company for solid earnings growth and cash flow growth in the future,” Immelt said. “When we look at the near term, it’s going to take investment, organic investment, to drive growth.”
 He described the outlook for GE’s industrial arms as “in a word, flat.”
 That forecast applied across GE’s big technology, and energy infrastructure divisions which include equipment and services, as well as its appliance and lighting arm.
 The Fairfield, Connecticut-based company is ready for weaker sales of heavy equipment but expects that to be offset in part by growing revenue for repairing and maintaining goods it has already sold.
 GE last year stopped giving Wall Street per-share profit forecasts, instead providing a “framework” of how it expects its various units to perform. Last week it told investors it looks for flat 2010 profit at its GE Capital finance arm.
 “The worst is behind us in financial services,” Immelt said.
 Analysts, on average, have expected 2010 profit of 89 cents per share, compared with forecast earnings for this year of 99 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
 The company expects operating profit at NBC to decline next year due to the high cost of broadcasting the Olympics.
 Some of GE’s blue-chip industrial peers last week told investors they expect to resume profit growth next year, with heavy cost-cutting beginning to offset the effects of a still-shaky global economy. United Technologies Corp (UTX.N) forecast a 10 percent rise in earnings, while 3M Co (MMM.N) looks for an increase of about 9 percent.
 GE shares closed down 1 percent, or 20 cents, at $15.75 on the New York Stock Exchange.
 The past year has been a tumultuous one for GE, which in March saw its shares briefly touch 18-year lows among investor concerns about the direction of its finance unit.
 The sole remaining original component of the Dow Jones industrial average .DJI was stripped of its top-tier credit ratings by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Investors Service, slashed its dividend 68 percent and scrambled to scale back GE Capital.
 Immelt has been working to scale back GE’s finance unit — its Achilles heel during the credit crisis — and to focus the conglomerate back on its heavy industrial core.
 “We’ve really defined the businesses that we want to be in and the ones that really fully utilize the GE competitive advantage,” Immelt said in the NBC studio where the “Saturday Night Live” television program is produced.
 “If we do inorganic growth in the future, it’s going to be in the key domains — not new platforms.”
 GE early this month reached a deal to sell a majority stake in its NBC Universal media business to No. 1 U.S. cable company Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O). To clear the way for that, it agreed to buy French media company Vivendi SA (VIV.PA)’s stake in NBC.
 The company aims to resume having GE Capital pay a dividend back to the GE parent company in the next few years, Immelt said, adding that the finance unit had grown beyond a reasonable size.
 “We let it get too big and we got into businesses that weren’t central to the GE core,” Immelt said.
 For a recent Reuters Breakingviews column on GE Capital, click: [ID:nN14207884]  (Reporting by Scott Malone; editing by Gunna Dickson, Carol Bishopric and Matthew Lewis)   

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