* Sees flat earnings across core industrial operations
* Expects profit down at NBC Universal due to Olympics
* Acquisition activity would focus on core businesses-CEO
* Stock down 1 percent (Adds investor quotes)
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 the worst of the financial crisis is behind it 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.
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.
“These guys have flown through the eye of the storm and come out on the other side,” said John Dowling, a portfolio manager at Golub Group, a San Mateo, California-based company that oversees about $660 million in assets, including GE shares. He said the forecast was what he expected and he was happy GE is refocusing on its core industrial units.
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, cut its dividend 68 percent and scrambled to trim GE Capital.
Immelt told reporters GE aims to return its dividend closer to its prior level, but declined to say when.
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,” 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,” he added.
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 the stake in NBC held by French media company Vivendi SA (VIV.PA).
“We like where they’re going in trying to reduce their exposure to financial services and NBC,” said Jim Rudd, principal and chief executive at Ferguson Wellman, a Portland, Oregon-based company that oversees about $2.5 billion in assets, including GE shares.
The company aims to resume having GE Capital pay a dividend back to the GE parent company in the next few years even as it trims back that business, Immelt said.
“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 Carol Bishopric, Matthew Lewis, Gary Hill)