General Electric Co is expected to report a 33 percent rise in first-quarter profit on Thursday, with improved performance at its finance arm more than offsetting roughly flat results at its big industrial units.
The largest U.S. conglomerate has been cutting back its GE Capital unit, which Chief Executive Jeff Immelt wants to represent 30 percent to 40 percent of earnings, rather than the more than half it generated before the 2008 financial crisis.
The big swing factor is what comes through on the GE Capital side, said analyst Brian Langenberg of Langenberg & Co, looking forward to the earnings report. I don't see anything in any of the industrial units that's going to move the stock. It's going to be about what happens at Capital.
Analysts, on average, look for profit of 28 cents per share on $34.64 billion in revenue, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. That revenue forecast represents a 5 percent decline.
Refocusing GE -- which is the world's largest maker of jet engines and electric turbines -- on its industrial businesses has meant lowering revenue. The company is also selling a 51 percent stake in the NBC Universal media business to Comcast Corp
Expectations are high for manufacturers this earnings season -- fellow manufacturers United Technologies Corp and Eaton Corp on Wednesday reported results that topped analysts' expectations and raised their profit forecasts for the year.
GE's shares have been particularly strong of late, gaining 9.2 percent since the start of the year, well ahead of the 3.8 percent gain in the broad Standard & Poor's 500 index <.SPX>.
The Fairfield, Connecticut-based company has come under fire over the past month for its low 2010 U.S. tax bill, though it has denied reports that it paid no income taxes last year.
GE has also made a return to the takeover trail over the past six months, spending some $14 billion on acquisitions, primarily to boost its presence in the energy sector.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Additional reporting by Nick Zieminski in New York; Editing by Bernard Orr)