Will This Giant Crush Earnings?

General Electric (NYS: GE) looks strong right now. Shares have gained more than 10% in 2012, leaving GE's average Dow Jones peers far behind.

Will those gains last through Friday's second-quarter earnings report, or have investors gotten ahead of themselves? Let's figure it out together.

Analysts expect GE to report $0.37 of adjusted earnings per share on $36.8 billion in revenue. Management doesn't offer quarter-by-quarter guidance, but CEO Jeff Immelt did have some longer-term targets in mind when discussing first-quarter results. Industrial profits should see double-digit percentage growth in 2012, and the GE Capital division is expected to "return excess cash" this year. The company can't control the global economy, but Immelt is ready to roll with the punches: "We are prepared for a variety of global outcomes which positions us to deliver for our investors in 2012 and beyond," he said.

Analysts from Morgan Stanley recently downgraded GE to a "hold" while boosting industrial rival 3M (NYS: MMM) to a "buy." The firm takes a dim view of GE's valuation in light of recent price gains. But fellow Fool Rich Smith points out that GE may be more expensive than 3M, but you really do get what you pay for. GE sports richer dividends and faster growth than the Minnesotans, after all.

And the moving parts that make up GE's complex profit machine are humming along just fine. The airplane engine segment just scored $12.6 billion of fresh orders at the Farnborough airshow, including a huge $5 billion ticket from United Continental (NYS: UAL) , for example. I'll keep an eye out for news on GE's fledgling software operations, too, which taps into the big-data trend with an industrial slant.

All things considered, GE remains just about the bluest chip on the market. Citibank certainly thinks so as the firm just added GE to its "champion" list of recommendations while dropping market darling Apple from the same list. Food for thought.

If you'd like to know more about "the new GE Way" and how the stodgy old industrial giant is adapting to a whole new era, check out this brand new premium report. In it, the Fool's industrials editor Isaac Pino explores whether you should be a buyer of GE shares.

The article Will This Giant Crush Earnings? originally appeared on Fool.com.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies mentioned. Check out Anders' holdings and bio, or follow him on Twitter and Google+. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple and 3M. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a diagonal call position in 3M. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.We Fools may not all hold the same opinion, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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