General Electric (NYSE:GE) today lowered its third-quarter and full-year earnings forecasts and announced a raft of measures to strengthen its capital position, including suspending its stock repurchase program. Although the company is responding to a credit crisis that appears to have worsened, some of its actions have longer-term implications. For example, GE will rebalance its industrial/financial activities to a 60/40 earnings split by 2009.

Battening down the hatches during the credit storm
CEO Jeff Immelt labeled the moves "proactive" -- a quality that would have served other organizations well in the current environment. Lehman Brothers is a case in point. The failed broker-dealer was still buying back its own stock at the beginning of June, less than four months before filing for bankruptcy protection.

GE's course of action is commendable. Times of crisis demand particular prudence and foresight. Mind you, this isn't AIG (NYSE:AIG) we're talking about; results are far from catastrophic.

With roughly $2 billion in earnings expected in the third quarter from its financial-services business, GE believes it will "exceed the earnings of any financial services company." That's right, folks. More than Citigroup (NYSE:C), Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), or Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS).

No. 1 through boom and bust?
Still, I'm curious to know how GE Capital, a company with enormous heft and breadth in financial services "continues to significantly outperform the majority of its peers among large financial institutions," per Standard & Poor's comments as it affirmed GE and GE Capital's AAA ratings today.

If a company uses conservative underwriting standards (one of the factors S&P cited), it cannot significantly outperform its peers both when a credit bubble is building and once it deflates. That's an either/or proposition. Either a lender is conservative, and would have underperformed when the credit bubble was growing (but not as it deflates) or it isn't, and it will underperform now that the bubble has burst.

Time will tell if the cries of "steady as she goes" from Immelt can steer GE around every credit shoal.

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