Normally, forecasts of 10% earnings growth -- such as the one made recently by General Electric (NYSE: GE ) -- wouldn't cause a celebration. But in such volatile times, GE's stable and sturdy earnings should provide support for the stock and lead the shares down a bullish path by year's end.
First, a little background. GE has historically commanded a 20% premium to the S&P 500. At its current price, though, it is selling for only around 14 times its 2008 estimated per-share earnings -- a slight discount to the S&P 500.
If one further considers that GE shares currently offer a 3.5% dividend yield -- and that the company has increased its dividend every year since 1975 -- the stock looks that much more attractive.
These two factors are precursors to the real reason I am bullish on General Electric: I like its potential to sell a widening array of products to international markets -- especially the energy sector.
It would be easy to concentrate on the high-growth markets of India and China -- and GE will grow in these markets -- but keep your eye on GE's fast-growing Middle Eastern operations. Sales from this region and Africa will reach $8 billion in 2008, compared to only $6 billion from China in 2007.
Moreover, these markets are expected to grow even faster in the years ahead -- demand for electricity alone in the region is estimated to grow 60% through 2015. And General Electric, because of its diverse energy offerings, is well positioned to meet that demand.
If a country wishes to pursue nuclear power (which the U.S. appears on the verge of doing), General Electric can meet that demand as well with a new, advanced nuclear reactor. On the other hand, if a country desires cleaner, more sustainable approaches to energy production, it is equally well positioned on that front.
Two weeks ago, GE announced it would bolster by 50%, to $6 billion, its annual investment in renewable energies. Forward-looking General Electric, already a leader in wind power domestically, recently opened a wind turbine manufacturing plant in China to meet demand there.
GE also ventured deeper into solar power with its investment last year in thin-film photovoltaics company, PrimeStar Solar. The move strengthens GE's spot in this fast-growing space and ultimately helps it position itself well against high-flying and solar-focused manufacturers such as Suntech Power (NYSE: STP ) and First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR ) .
Add GE's strong commitment to research and development, and it is clear that after six long years of flat-lined stock growth, Chairman of the board and CEO Jeff Immelt is ready to take his company on a bullish ride.
Read the bear argument
My argument is solid, but it's not the only one to be made. Fool Ryan Fuhrmann is the bear in today's Duel. Read his argument and then my rebuttal below.
After reading my esteemed colleague's bearish outlook on GE, I was reminded of that popular past and present political probe: Where's the beef?
Sure, GE's financial services division is operating in tenuous times, but as my colleague himself mentions, the division has a stable history. Moreover, the company exited its subprime mortgage business last year after suffering heavy losses on it. In doing so, it also limited exposure to the continuing turmoil in the subprime mortgage market.
Regarding Ryan's concerns about cash flow, again, I'd urge calmness. The company has plenty of money to fund acquisitions, pay a healthy dividend, and even repurchase additional stock.
Lastly, the comparison to 3M (NYSE: MMM ) is fair, but it hardly merits a bearish outlook. In my initial argument, I emphasized GE's exposure to the explosive energy opportunities in emerging markets. I could just as easily have pointed out the company's ongoing strength in health care, rail, and aviation.
Alas, I did not because I am convinced there is plenty of meat -- er, I mean, beef -- on GE's energy plate to fuel a bullish run.