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The current earnings season seems far heavier on disappointments than positive surprises. General Electric (NYSE: GE ) falls somewhere in the middle; its results didn't knock our socks off, but the company did live up to expectations. (Kudos to the company, at least, for the solid guidance it's provided thus far.)
For the quarter, GE checked in with a profit of $3.72 billion. That's a 44% plunge from its $6.7 billion in net earnings from a year ago. Earnings per share fell for the same period by 47%, from $0.66 per share to $0.35. Overall, firmwide revenue slipped almost 5% to $46.21 billion.
Unsurprisingly, the Capital Finance segment posted the biggest decline; profits slid by 67%, on a 17% dip in revenue. The unit, which accounted for roughly 40% of GE's Q4 2007 profits, has been pared back to represent a mere 16% of earnings for Q4 2008.
Meanwhile, the Technology Infrastructure unit and its Energy Infrastructure sibling both grew by varying degrees. The energy group led the parade, with revenue growth of 21% and profits that rose 11%. My only concern about that unit involves the possible long-term effects of sliding oil and gas prices on its book of business.
GE, which is pulling back on providing quantitative earnings and profit guidance, has also said it would cut jobs across its various operations this year. It joins oilfield services provider Schlumberger (NYSE: SLB ) , Big Oil's ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP ) , and plastics and paper maker MeadWestvaco (NYSE: MVW ) in reducing its workforce to contend with worldwide economic softness.
At the same time, General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt clearly remains determined to maintain his company's triple-A credit rating and $1.24-per-share annual dividend. At the company's current share price -- down about 60% during the past year -- that payout provides a 9.5% yield.
Though Immelt and his minions clearly are working feverishly to revitalize and rebalance GE, I'd keep the company at arm's length until the ticking time bomb that is GE Capital gets safely detonated. Meanwhile, I'll be closely watching for earnings reports next week from Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT ) and U.S. Steel (NYSE: X ) , both of which will provide more clarity to our world's disintegrating industrial picture.
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