General Electric Co reported better-than-expected quarterly earnings, as strong emerging-market demand for industrial equipment brought its first rise in overall revenue since late 2008.
U.S. President Barack Obama tapped GE Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt to head a new economic advisory panel in a strong sign of how investor and public opinion has changed about a company that became one of the dogs of Wall Street during the recession.
Shares of the world's largest maker of jet engines and electric turbines rose 5.7 percent, notching the biggest percentage gain on the blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average on Friday and pushing the whole index higher, as investors called the results a sign that the economy was strengthening.
It's the economy at large, said Perry Adams, vice president and senior portfolio manager at Huntington Private Financial Group in Traverse City, Michigan, which owns GE shares. That reflects a growing economy and GE is well positioned for that.
A rebound in demand for railroad locomotives and a rise in sales of medical imaging devices helped GE notch a 12 percent rise in orders in the quarter, driving its order backlog -- a key indicator of future revenue -- to $175 billion.
The environment continues to improve, Immelt told analysts during a conference call from Schenectady, New York, where Obama is scheduled to tour a GE facility on Friday. The economy can get a little bit stronger every day.
The results may raise expectations for a wave of earnings reports coming next week from fellow blue-chip industrials Caterpillar Inc, United Technologies Corp, Boeing Co and 3M Co.
GE turning the corner does raise the bar for where you would expect global revenue to come in for any diversified firm, said Morningstar analyst Daniel Holland. I'm a little bit more optimistic than I was coming into the cycle.
GE's fourth-quarter net income came to $4.5 billion, or 42 cents per share, up from $3 billion, or 28 cents per share, a year earlier.
Profit from continuing operations came to 36 cents per share, above the 32 cents analysts had expected, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Revenue rose 1 percent to $41.38 billion, above the $39.9 billion analysts had expected.
The most exciting thing is the return to organic revenue growth, said Jack De Gan, chief investment officer, at Harbor Advisory Corp in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The last two or two and a half years, organic revenue growth has been negative, and this is the first quarter that it's flipped positive.
GE's industrial organic growth, which excludes the impact of acquisitions and foreign exchange, rose 6 percent in the fourth quarter.
Deutsche Bank analyst Nigel Coe called the results arguably their best quarter since 2007.
The Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE recorded 10 cents per share in one-time charges, including $500 million set aside to cover the cost of cleaning up chemicals it had dumped into New York's Hudson River more than three decades ago. That charge was offset by 10 cents per share of one-time gains, including a tax settlement.
After a few years where profits declined at GE and trouble at its finance arm had management on the defensive -- pushing the shares as low as $5.87 in March 2009 -- Immelt is back on the offensive, twice raising the dividend in the past year, resuming share buybacks and returning to the takeover trail.
The shares were up $1.05 at $19.48 on the New York Stock Exchange, pushing its market capitalization to $207.13 billion.
GE shares have risen almost 11 percent over the past year, roughly in line with the Dow.
(Reporting by Scott Malone, additional reporting by Nick Zieminski, Chuck Mikolajczak, Angela Moon and Edward Krudy in New York and Atul Prakash in London; editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Derek Caney)