Why General Electric Earnings Were Just Good Enough

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General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) reported first-quarter 2017 results before markets opened Friday. The conglomerate reported diluted net earnings per share (EPS) of $0.07 on revenues of $27.66 billion. In the same period a year ago, GE reported a net loss per share of $0.01 on revenues of $27.85 billion. First-quarter results also compare to the consensus estimates for EPS of $0.17 on revenues of $26.41 billion.

On the company’s and analysts’ preferred basis of comparison, industrial operating and verticals earnings rose 5%, from $2.42 billion in the first quarter of 2016 to $2.53 billion and adjusted EPS was flat at $0.21. Excluding a $0.08 per share restructuring charge, adjusted EPS totaled $0.29.

Revenues in the oil and gas segment rose 17% year over year in the quarter from $5.2 billion to $6.1 billion. Energy connections revenue fell 35% to $2.75 billion and renewable energy revenues were up 22% to $2.04 billion.

GE also noted that its backlog during the quarter rose 3% year over year to $324.3 billion. Of that total $240.4 billion is services backlog and $83.9 billion is equipment.

CEO Jeff Immelt said:

The first quarter was a strong start to the year with organic revenues +7%, orders +10%, and Industrial operating margin +130 bps. We returned $4.4 billion to shareowners through dividends and buyback. Industrial operating cash flows were negative $1.6 billion driven primarily by an increase in working capital and timing of billings on our long-term equipment and service contracts. We expect cash flows to improve throughout the remainder of the year, with no change to our full year cash flow framework. We reaffirm our 2017 operating framework for Industrial operating + Verticals EPS, organic revenue growth and Industrial operating margin expansion.

When it reported earnings for the fourth quarter of 2016, GE said it expects 2017 adjusted EPS in the range of $1.60 to $1.70. Estimated free cash flow and dispositions are forecast in a range of $16 billion to $20 billion. GE also expects to return dividends totaling approximately $8 billion and buybacks totaling $11 billion to $13 billion in 2017.

Analysts have estimated second-quarter EPS of $0.31 on revenues of $30.22 billion. For the 2017 fiscal year, the current consensus calls for EPS of $1.63 on revenues of $133.43 billion.

Shares traded up about 0.6% in Friday’s premarket session, at $30.45 in a 52-week range of $28.19 to $33.00. The 12-month consensus price target was $33.00 before results were announced.