General Electric (NYSE:GE), by virtue of its size and the breadth of its activities, is a pretty good bellwether for the state of the global economy. The abridged message from its first-quarter earnings appears to be: Infrastructure is buoyant, while financial services remain an anchor.

Indeed, GE's energy infrastructure activity recorded profit growth of 19% on 7% revenue growth. That bodes well for competitors such as Motley Fool Global Gains pick ABB (NYSE:ABB) or Siemens (NYSE:SI).

On a more sobering note, GE Capital Finance's earnings fell 58%, and although the lending unit still managed to pull in $1.1 billion in net income, I continue to believe that GE's forecast of $5 billion in earnings from the lending unit is wildly unrealistic.

Are you hearing this, regional banks?
Within this unit, the only segment that lost money was real estate (a loss of $173 million on an asset base of $82 billion); losses and impairments on commercial real estate accounted for the entirety of the loss. That should help check the optimism that bank stock investors have demonstrated over the last six weeks.

In its earnings release yesterday, for example, Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) said that its non-performing commercial real estate assets increased to $5.7 billion in the first quarter from $3.8 billion in the prior quarter (note that the first-quarter figure now aggregates assets from Merrill Lynch).

It will be very interesting to see some of the detail on Wells Fargo's (NYSE:WFC) earnings tomorrow. Yes, pre-announced results were strong, but Wells has significant commercial real estate loan exposure in its portfolio. Regional banks such as Fifth Third Bancorp (NASDAQ:FITB) -- which reports on Thursday -- are also vulnerable on this front.

GE: The long and short of it
Thanks to a surge of optimism concerning the state of the crisis and the health of the global economy, the panic that provoked a run on GE shares appears to have subsided. This gives executive management some breathing room, with greater freedom to focus on running the business instead of reassuring investors. Still, it's not time to relax -- GE must continue to pare its exposure to financing activities.

GE's stock may no longer be a pure speculation, but the company remains a sprawling giant that is difficult to get a good grasp on. That didn't seem to bother investors when GE met analysts' estimates with a regularity that would put a Swiss rail station master to shame, but those days are a victim of the credit crisis.

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Alex Dumortier, CFA, has a beneficial interest in Wells Fargo, but not in any of the other companies mentioned in this article. ABB is a Motley Fool Global Gains recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.