On Friday morning, megaconglomerate General Electric (NYSE:GE) gets an early jump on the autumnal earnings season, true to form. We're getting a third-quarter report bright and early, a few days before the party really gets started. Let's see what to expect this time.

What analysts say:

  • Buy, sell, or waffle? Sixteen analysts follow GE today, with 13 buy ratings and three holders among them. Our own Motley Fool CAPS community seems nearly as optimistic, giving the stock a fine four-star rating on the back of more than 3,800 player opinions.
  • Revenues. The Street would settle for $42.5 billion, 4% more than last year's $40.9 billion.
  • Earnings. $0.55 per share would satisfy the average analyst, up from $0.49 per share last year. It's also the midpoint of management's three-penny guidance range.

What management says:
In the last earnings call, CEO Jeff Immelt thought that GE looked a lot like his current vision of the ever-morphing company structure: "We like the way the company looks right now and feel like the company that we've got can deliver on all the commitments we've made to investors, so that gives us just a tremendous amount of flexibility in this high liquidity time period to be tough-minded and investor friendly."

What management does:

Margin

3/2006

6/2006

9/2006

12/2006

3/2007

6/2007

Gross

39.5%

39.9%

39%

38.3%

38.6%

38.2%

Operating

15.8%

16.2%

15.6%

15.1%

15.1%

14.6%

Net

11.5%

11.7%

11.4%

13%

12.8%

12.8%

FCF/Revenue

13.5%

12.8%

9.7%

8.7%

7%

10.9%

Growth (YOY)

3/2006

6/2006

9/2006

12/2006

3/2007

6/2007

Revenue

9.7%

11%

16.1%

10.2%

11.1%

12.8%

Earnings*

10.8%

11%

7.8%

10.7%

11.8%

11.6%

All data courtesy of Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. Data reflects trailing-12-month performance for the quarters ended in the named months.
*Earnings from continuing operations.

One Fool says:
Of course, the CEO comments above came before the recent market liquidity meltdown when the Fed stepped in to inject some fresh desperation cash. That shouldn't hurt GE too much, though, because you're not likely to see a healthier balance sheet anywhere, anytime.

GE's Financial Services division makes the company act like a money-center bank in many respects. When it comes to liquidity, GE plays in the same league as megabanks like Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), Citigroup (NYSE:C), and Wachovia (NYSE:WB), but with far more diverse operations.

At any rate, don't expect any major surprises on Friday. It's been more than two years since the earnings result fell more than a penny away from the Street consensus, and nearly three years since the last miss. Steady as she goes, cap'n! This ship is too big to make any unexpected turns.

Further Foolishness on a large scale:

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Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Bank of America but holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like. Foolish disclosure is the prognosticator of prognosticators.