The crickets are quiet tonight.
There is a storm more rapid
Than pleasure moving in from the south.

-- from "I, Maid of Honor" by Michelle Maiers, a verse written specifically to honor National Poetry Month

General Electric (NYSE:GE) reports first-quarter earnings Friday morning. The once-untouchable powerhouse is showing some cracks, and its legendary AAA credit rating has fallen by the wayside. Is GE doomed -- or primed for a massive comeback?

The bears and the bulls
It's easy to find doomsday prophets with negative opinions of GE. Many Motley Fool CAPS members distrust CEO Jeff Immelt, arguing that GE needs fresh blood at the top. And the GE Capital financial services arm, which used to be GE's biggest moneymaker, has become a big, heavy liability.

Still, more than 12,700 CAPS ratings on this titan of industry -- 93% of the total -- have given it a thumbs-up. Fellow Fool and All-Star CAPS player TMFBreakerTAllan sums up GE's advantages:

GE, only one of a handful of companies that can compete in massive infrastructure projects for water and energy systems around the world. That and some diversification in its various divisions from washing machines to TV to movies. The very depressed share price and dividend will recover with the market and GE will be positioned for global growth.

It's not all sunshine and puppies
Immelt has been dealt (or perhaps assembled) a very tough hand, and I expect this quarter's results won't impress anyone:

  • After dominating TV ratings through the '90s, NBC has fallen from grace, dragging along as the fourth-ranked network since 2006. It's sort of OK to lose to CBS (NYSE:CBS) and to Disney's (NYSE:DIS) ABC once in a while, but now even News Corp.'s (NASDAQ:NWS) Fox network outranks the Peacock. That smarts.
  • The global financial meltdown has handcuffed Immelt when it comes to remaking his company in a new image, as GE has done so many times in the past century. Nobody wanted to buy the household-appliances segment last year, because without new home construction, there's not much of a market for new appliances. Besides, any prospective acquirer might need to borrow cash to cover buyout costs -- and easy liquidity ain't on the table anymore.

The investing takeaway
These days, GE is an unfortunate hybrid. Over the past six months, the stock has outperformed real banks such as Citigroup (NYSE:C) and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), but lagged far behind other industrialists such as 3M (NYSE:MMM).

If Immelt plays his cards right, I believe that he can bide his time until market conditions allow him to borrow a bit, spend a bit, and then reshape GE into less of a financial beast, and more of a classical industrialist. When that happens -- and this could take many months, maybe a couple of years -- today's depressed share prices could set you up for massive gains. GE is far from dead, and it'll get over this financial flu in due time.

Patience, young grasshopper. The bounce is coming.

Further Foolishness:

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Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Walt Disney, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings or a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.