General Electric Co., the U.S.'s largest industrial manufacturer, is expected to report a 22.3 percent fourth-quarter profit increase, driven by strong equipment order and pricing trends and growth in the aviation and energy infrastructure sectors.
The Fairfield, Conn.-based company, which has posted six straight quarters of operating earnings growth, reports Friday.
Analysts forecast a profit of 38 cents per share, up from last year's 36 cents per share. Consensus estimates have fourth-quarter profit increasing from $3.22 billion to $3.94 billion, jumping more than 22 percent. Analysts also expect consolidated revenues of $40.3 billion.
According to FactSet, more than 80 percent of analysts following General Electric now push its stock at a Buy rating or more, its best percentage in more than three years. That's keyed by equipment order and pricing trends and increased profit in the energy infrastructure sector.
Analyst Terry Darling of Goldman Sachs maintained the firm's Buy rating in a note to clients sent out Monday.
Risk/reward remains attractive, in our view, given a sector-leading 3.7 percent dividend yield, visible late-cycle industrial growth from declining credit losses and improving margins that position GE for multi-year double-digit earnings expansion, Darling wrote in his note to clients.
GE's recovery over the past two years -- the company is trading about 3 percent above its levels two years ago -- has been heavily fueled by its financial services sector. Its industrial sector's profits fell 10 percent in 2011, according to William Blair & Company analyst Nicholas Heymann.
But GE Industrial could finally see recovery as well. Heymann predicts a double-digit increase in that sector's profits in 2012, as much as 15 percent. Significantly driving this increase is its increased production of equipment and services in the oil and energy sector, particularly in the U.S, though growth in Europe has slowed because of the region's debt crisis.
Revenue in GE's energy infrastructure segment will jump 29 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011, Darling said. Heymann said GE's aircraft engine deliveries should also jump double-digit rates in 2012, and revenue will grow about 12 percent.
Meanwhile, in the energy sector, GE will likely benefit from demand for gas turbines as natural gas prices stay low and crude oil prices rise. As in most other sectors, European growth should stagger, but Heymann said he expects strong sales of gas turbines to Japan -- to aid its reconstruction after last March's earthquake and tsunami -- and healthy growth in most other markets to offset the European slowdown. That's something the company also expects.
In 2012, we should have solid organic growth and expanding margins, GE CEO Jeff Immelt said in an October conference call with investors announcing the company's third-quarter earnings results. We're lined up to have solid growth in aviation and energy.
Orders throughout the segments are expected to jump 10 to 15 percent year-to-year, based on the strength of the aviation and energy segments. According to Darling, total orders have increased for the past six quarters. The fourth quarter is traditionally when GE experiences its highest order volume. In the third quarter, total orders increased 16 percent, including 26 percent in oil and gas and 18 percent in aviation.
GE's transportation segment is also steadily inclining, based on growth across the board -- more significantly in emerging markets. Heymann said transportation won't be heavily affected by the European crisis, since it is not a significant market.
Transportation is expanding into adjacent markets such as mining, propulsion, and software, which should provide additional revenue growth in 2012, Heymann wrote in a note to clients.
Risks remain, however, in energy pricing and the potential for higher taxes and weaker GDP growth in than expected in 2012, Darling said. And certain segments will likely see a decline, particularly in homes and business solutions, where Darling estimates a 5 percent revenue loss in the fourth quarter.
GE has said it expects to grow profits by double-digits in 2012, predicting to outpace competitor United Technologies, which is looking for 10 percent growth this year. The key factor will lie in the European debt crisis, but Heymann expects GE to keep growing regardless.
GE has contingency plans in place to ensure its liquidity is maintained even if Europe's problems prove significantly more severe than currently anticipated, Heymann said.