By Lewis Krauskopf
General Electric (GE) reported a slightly higher-than-expected quarterly profit Friday, with cost cuts that helped boost margins across its industrial businesses offsetting revenue that missed analysts' targets.
Shares of GE rose 3.4 percent to $25.07 as the U.S. conglomerate also posted a 22 percent jump in orders for jet engines, locomotives and other industrial equipment and services.
GE reported a 4 percent rise in organic revenue, which excludes acquisitions, at its industrial manufacturing businesses, where Chief Executive Officer Jeff Immelt is increasingly focusing the company.
Although that quarterly growth didn't meet some analyst expectations, GE said such revenue was on track to hit the higher end of its projected range of 4 percent to 7 percent growth for 2014.
Reaching that high end "would be quite a pickup," said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer with Solaris Asset Management, which owns GE shares.
%VIRTUAL-WSSCourseInline-956%"They were able to engineer the earnings in industrials," Ghriskey said. "It's just that the revenues were relatively weak.
"The stock is reflecting more forward-looking statements than third-quarter results."
Like those of other diverse U.S. manufacturers, GE's shares had been underperforming the broader market this year amid concerns about a soft global economy, after a big run-up in 2013.
Asked on a call with analysts about the global economy, Immelt said: "The underlying activity is still reasonably healthy, but not universal." He added that "the U.S. is probably the best we've seen it since the financial crisis."
Immelt is seeking to boost GE's earnings contribution from its industrials businesses to 75 percent by 2016 from 55 percent last year, while reducing its exposure to the GE Capital finance unit.
GE's third-quarter net income rose 10.8 percent to $3.54 billion, or 35 cents a share.
Excluding pension costs and other special items, earnings of 38 cents a share topped the analysts' average estimate by a penny, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Revenue rose 1 percent to $36.17 billion, below the $36.79 billion that analysts expected.
Sales fell 2 percent at the power and water segment, which sells energy-producing turbines and is GE's biggest industrial division. But GE projected sales growth of at least 10 percent in the division for the fourth quarter.
GE's profit margin for its industrial businesses came in at 16.3 percent, expanding by 0.9 percentage points from a year earlier. The company pointed to its efforts to simplify its operations through cost cuts and a wider gap between the price of its products and the expense of producing them.
GE has targeted increasing its industrial profit margins to 17 percent by 2016 from 15.7 percent last year. The expansion in the quarter indicated the company was "well on their way" to meeting that goal, said Perry Adams, portfolio manager at Northwestern Bank.
By Lewis Krauskopf