At Issue: U.S. Economy
It's been said that 'As GE goes, so goes the U.S. economy.' Can investors get a quick-read on the U.S. economy from GE's performance? REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque


For a quick-read on the U.S. economy, review General Electric (GE).

Economists, journalists, and public policy professionals, among others who closely follow the U.S. economy, often get asked questions at dinner parties about where the U.S. economy is headed.

Moreover, many who ask about the economy know a great deal about their own line of work, of course, but often don't know a great deal about the U.S. economy's overall performance, and that's not surprising, given today's busy, time-pressured lives these days.

With the above in mind, is there a short-hand that one can use, to check the pulse of the U.S. economy, for those who who don't have the time to review the U.S. Federal Reserve's Beige Book data or the U.S. Labor Department's jobs report?

Indeed there is: keep an eye on General Electric's (GE) operational performance, and, by extension, its stock performance.

It's often been said that diversified industrial giant GE 'is a mutual fund in one company,' but the company is in fact an even more-telling barometer than that.

In fact, one can say that, As GE goes, so goes the United States' -- the company's operations represent that large a portion of the U.S. economy -- industry, heavy equipment, technology, energy, home and business, military contracts, commercial aviation, media, green technology, and finance.

Most Americans are aware that losses in GE's Capital Finance unit compounded a cyclical downturn in business triggered by the 2007-2009 recession, and GE's stock reflected those chilly days, sinking below $5. Overall revenue fell a stunning 14% in 2009.

However, by late-2010, the U.S. economic recovery was underway, and GE's stock, which meandered at $16 for much of 2010, pushed above psychological resistance at $20 in the winter 2011.

GE shares then pulled-back this summer. GE's shares closed Friday down 12 cent to $19.04. And, not surprising, the U.S. economy, like GE's stock, hit a soft-patch in mid-2011.

What's the outlook for G.E., and, by extension, for the U.S. economy? GE just reported second quarter earnings of 35 cents per share, 3 cents above the Reuters consensus estimate of 32 cents. June quarter revenue total $35.6 billion compared to the $34.7 billion Reuters estimate.

CEO Jeff Immelt said the company continues to see strong international revenue growth, particularly in emerging market countries India, China, and in Southeast Asia, Africa, Russia, Australia, Canada, and Latin America.

We see momentum building for 2012, Immelt said, Dow Jones reported. The indicators are positive.

One indication of the that? GE's order backlog, which increased to a record $189 billion at the end of the second quarter from $177 billion in the first quarter.

Economic Analysis: GE's shares show both order and revenue strength in international operations, and that roughly mirrors the outlook for the U.S. economy. Most U.S. corporations will aqequately to good in 2011, with solid international revenue offsetting sub-par domestic revenue.

Therefore, if you want a quick-read on the U.S. economy, take a look at how GE is doing operationally, and how its stock is performing.