Why GE’s (GE) Earnings Don’t Matter

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GE (GE) reported earnings in line with expectations and it is unlikely that the stock will move up or down much more than a couple of percent. Market watchers are fond of reminding Wall St. that GE trades about where it did in January 2002. Jack Welch is gone. And GE will never be a dynamic company again. And, so it goes.

There is a simple reason that GE’s  stock does not move much with earnings and probably won’t any time soon. It is the same problem that Microsoft (MSFT) has now. GE has a couple of large divisions that represent the lion’s share of the company’s earnings power. The other three or four segments usually cancel each other out. One has a good quarter and a couple of other are weak. They take turns.  Here was our full comprehensive earnings preview for GE’s quarter.

In the first half of the year, GE’s top line grew 10%. Earnings from continuing operations rose 12%. In the third quarter, reveneu was up 12% and earnings from ongoing operations were up 7%

GE’s big infrastructure unit had a 20% improvement in revenue in the first six months. It is one-third of the company’s entire revenue. GE’s commercial finance business grew 15%. It is one-sixth of the company’s revenue. Another sixth is the industrial segment, which was flat. The movements in the health-care and entertainment operations were close to being rounding errors.

In terms of segment profits, the same issues apply. Infrastructure profits rose 26% in the first half. Commercial finance was up 19%. The industrial numbers were up very slightly. The units together were more than two-thirds of segment profit. The infrastructure piece was 37% of segment profit all on its own.It did not matter much if the entertainment segment did well or not.

In the third quarter, none of that changed much. Infrastucture reveue was up 19% to $14.5 billion. But segment profit rose only 12% to $2.6 billion. Commercial finance reveue was up 17% to $7 billion. But segment profit there rose only 12% to less than $1.5 billion. Industrial income was flat at $6.2 billion. Segment income rose 6%

There is an argument to be made that the entertainment unit, NBC Universal, drags down profits come. That is true. But, if it is gone, it might move revenue growth from 12% a year to 13%.

GE has a pattern now. It grows faster than the global economy, every quarter, quarter in and quarter out. It does not grow as fast as Google. The stock reflects all of that, and its should.

GE has broken out of its slump some. Over the last year, it is up about 15%, the same as the S&P 500. It has become, because of its size and diversity, a mirror of the large cap market in general. Absent some massive write-off in financial services, things will stay that way. Even that eventuality is priced in.

And, there is nothing wrong with that.

Douglas A. McIntyre