GE Can Blame Bernanke

A day without rain is like
a day without sunshine
-- AR Ammons, "Weathering"

General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) was not supposed to wipe out on a weak American economy. It did so anyway.

There's plenty of happy GE news among the doom and gloom you'll see reported today, but it's hard to swallow the shock of the bottom-line miss. Management guidance, which tends to be spot-on when you're talking about a seasoned and predictable humongo-business like this one, had pointed to earnings of at least $0.50 per share. The final result was just $0.43 per share, down from $0.44 per share a year ago.

The stock is down approximately 11% today, which just about puts us back to the 52-week lows seen in early March. It's a valuation GE has seen only once or twice since late 2004, and it would be silly not to consider how suitable this moment might be to put one of the world's largest and most respected companies in your portfolio.

GE management explained that the miss was due to "the extraordinary disruption in the capital markets in March," when Bear Stearns (NYSE: BSC  ) went bust and the government stuck a few fat fingers in the nation's financial pies. It's easy to forget that GE, as a massive conglomerate, comes with its own banking services. This segment accounts for most of the company's balance sheet items, as well as a good deal of its income. The business-to-business focus of GE Finance has saved the company from the subprime consumer mess, but no one is above trouble in the corporate finance market itself.

Some planned asset sales at the end of the quarter didn't close as expected, removing about $0.05 of EPS. Aside from the financial meltdown, life ain't half bad in Fairfield, Conn. The industrial division reported 5% organic revenue growth over the year-ago quarter, and cash flow from operations, excluding dividends, improved by 8% to $3.7 billion.

Next week, we'll hear from other bellwether businesses, including Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) , Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) , JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) , and IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) , giving us a better picture of the fallout from this year's (financial!) March madness. For now, just enjoy the deep discount on a great business.

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