General Electric's a Cash Machine, But Will It Be a Dividend Dynamo?

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I've long suspected that investment banker Sterne Agee was one of the better analysts on Wall Street. Now, I'm sure of it. According to our the Motley Fool's patented CAPS supercomputer, Sterne regularly scores at or near the top 10% of investors we track. That's pretty compelling evidence of the analyst's investing chops. But the real clue that Sterne is a genius stockpicker?

Sterne now agrees with me that General Electric (NYS: GE) is a bargain.

Foolish minds think alike
Of course I'm kidding, but it is gratifying to see a real, live professional analyst also support my buy thesis for GE.

While Sterne's not quite as hopeful as I was when I waxed optimistic about the chance for a 4.6% dividend yield at GE earlier this year, the analyst still thinks GE can generate "$30 billion in excess capital" over the next three years. It even sees a potential for $18 billion more if the government decides to boost the economy by permitting overseas cash to be repatriated at favorable tax rates.

In the analyst's opinion, this opens the door to share buybacks in the neighborhood of 600 million shares -- nearly 6% of shares outstanding -- through 2014. Sterne also sees the potential for dividend increases. If, for example, GE Capital obtains permission from the Fed to pay a dividend to its GE proper, then "once GE Cap pays the dividend to the parent company there are no restrictions preventing GE from paying dividends to shareholders."

Can GE bring these good things to life?
In fact, with or without GE Cap's help, General Electric should be able to grow dividends briskly, depending on earnings growth alone. The company is coming off a decent earnings quarter, in which GE reported profits up more than 10% over year-ago levels. And that's just a start.

GE is revving up operations in "long-cycle industrial businesses," you see. Building plane engines for Boeing (NYS: BA) and Airbus, as well as AVIC and Comac besides. Building train engines for Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-B). Wading into the oil patch to compete with the likes of Halliburton (NYS: HAL) and Schlumberger (NYS: SLB) in oil-field services. It's even taking on First Solar (NAS: FSLR) -- the 800-pound gorilla of thin film solar energy -- with a plan to create a $1 billion thin film business.

All of this promises steady earnings growth for years to come.

Is this the way things will play out? Is there still hope for a 4.6% dividend for GE shareholders?Add the stock to your Fool Watchlist, and find out.

At the time this article was published

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