General Electric (NYSE:GE) has eight separate business segments (oil and gas, power and water, energy management, aviation, capital, health care, home and business solutions, and transportation) that raked in $146 billion in revenue and $17 billion in operating income in 2013. Those numbers were a bit soft compared to the prior two years, but shareholders have little to complain about, as since the beginning of 2011 shares have risen 45% and the dividend has increased by 57%. While that's an impressive run for a company with a market cap of $184 billion, I believe the future is even brighter for GE investors. Products and approaches being pursued today mean General Electric is poised to become a leader in the future economy -- all by leveraging its key business segments. Here's how.
1. Life sciences
General Electric's health-care segment may be better known for the X-ray, CT, MRI, and PET systems that it sells to hospitals and clinics, but don't overlook the life sciences unit. Molecular diagnostics, protein and cellular analytical tools, and novel single-use production systems for biological drug manufacturing will power the segment's future growth. In fact, the life sciences unit is driving much of today's growth for the health-care portfolio and holds the distinction of being among the fastest-growing offerings in the entire company.
The recent acquisition of three businesses from Thermo Fisher Scientific (NYSE:TMO) -- cell culture, gene modulation, and magnetic bead (for protein purification) products -- was necessary for Thermo Fisher Scientific to complete its purchase of Life Technologies and will complement General Electric's existing capabilities quite nicely. Better yet, the deal closed for just $1.06 billion despite the products bringing in $250 million in sales in 2013. That's not a bad addition to life sciences at General Electric, which contributed $4 billion in total sales in 2012, or about 22% of the health-care unit's total revenue.
General Electric's energy segments -- oil and gas, power and water, energy management -- today represent one-third of the company's total revenue and nearly half of its industrial revenue (everything minus GE Capital). While there's a heavy presence in oil and natural gas (rightfully so), the products of the future are making plenty of noise, too. The company offers solutions for some of the most important -- and difficult -- problems civilization will face this century, from nuclear-waste-consuming reactors to renewable energy tech, next-generation water solutions to smart-grid systems.
One piece of the future may soon arrive at General Electric's power and water segment. The company is in a fierce battle with Siemens to acquire the energy business of the French conglomerate Alstom, which is a world leader in power generation (especially nuclear) and transmission equipment. General Electric CEO Jeffrey R. Immelt is scheduled to meet Wednesday with French President François Hollande to review the details of the company's $17 billion bid. If successful, the deal would boost GE's power and water revenue by 60%, although the company may sell certain assets to state-owned French power companies or partner with the government on other specific technologies, rather than acquire them outright.
3. Industrial Internet
Perhaps the most exciting opportunity for General Electric is the Industrial Internet, also known as the Internet of Things, for machines of all kinds. Whether it's your dishwasher, a 100-meter-tall wind turbine, the network of airplanes swarming around the skies, health-care equipment, or the steam turbine in the nuclear power station down the street, General Electric wants them connected and talking to equipment upstream and downstream in their respective processes. They could tell you how they were doing, when they weren't feeling so well, and even what went wrong and how to fix them. That's pretty powerful.
Perhaps powerful is an understatement. It's estimated that a 1% efficiency gain in hospitals could mean more than $63 billion in global health-care savings. In all, General Electric thinks the Industrial Internet could by 2035 add $10 trillion to $15 trillion to global GDP and boost average incomes in the United States by 25%-40%. That's equivalent to adding another China at the low estimate and another United States at the high estimate.
Revenue and operating income at General Electric may have come in a little softer in 2013 compared to the prior two years, but shareholders should remember that the company's pipeline of products and ideas will continue driving growth for years to come. A focus on life sciences will power GE's health-care business, just as a focus on the future of energy generation and efficiency will drive GE energy. Meanwhile, helping to commercialize the Industrial Internet would open significant opportunities for General Electric and its shareholders. When you take it all in, it's difficult to imagine General Electric won't be a leader in the future economy.