CROTONVILLE, New York General Electric Co (GE.N) on Thursday raised its 2012 industrial revenue growth forecast to 10 percent, the high-end of its prior 5 to 10 percent range, sending its shares to their highest price level since 2008.
"We like the industrial portfolio and we think this is going to deliver double-digit growth," Chief Executive Jeff Immelt said, referring to the largest U.S. conglomerate's broad portfolio of industrial products that includes jet engines and medical imaging devices.
Like many large U.S. manufacturers, the world's biggest maker of electric turbines has been coping with an uncertain economy as worries about Europe's debt crisis and ongoing budget battles in Washington make some customers wary of investing in new equipment.
The company is "realistic" about the economic environment. Immelt noted the U.S. economy seems "OK"; demand in China is "not that bad"; but Europe remains uncertain.
GE expects to grow operating earnings per share at a double-digit percentage rate in both 2012 and 2013, Immelt said.
The Fairfield, Connecticut-based company aims to cut sales, general and administrative costs by $700 million to $1 billion in 2013, with an additional $1 billion to $1.3 billion in cuts in 2014, Immelt told investors at GE's leafy training center in Crotonville, New York, about 40 miles north of New York City.
The company also aims to reduce its outstanding share count below 10 billion, or back to the level it was before GE sold new shares to raise cash during the 2008 financial crisis. GE currently has 10.56 billion shares outstanding, according to Reuters data.
GE shares closed up 2.9 percent at $22.73 on the New York Stock Exchange. Earlier, they hit $22.86, their highest level since the fall of 2008.
The company held to its target of making smaller acquisitions, in the $1 billion to $3 billion range, and is most interested in buying small, focused companies, Immelt said.
HEADWIND IN WIND
One of the biggest challenges the company faces is in the wind business, where it expects a sharp decline in sales next year after the expiration of a U.S. tax credit intended to spur investment in wind farms.
"We'll still have the most profitable (wind turbine business), it'll just be smaller," said Steven Bolze, who runs GE's power and water arm. He noted that the decline in wind sales would lower GE's 2013 profit by about 3 cents per share.
Analysts expect the company to earn $1.73 per share next year, excluding one-time items, which would represent roughly 12 percent growth from forecast 2012 profit of $1.54, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
GE competes with some of the world's largest and best financed manufacturing groups, including United Technologies Corp (UTX.N), Germany's Siemens AG (SIEGn.DE) and France's Alstom SA (ALSO.PA).
Its blue-chip peer, Caterpillar Inc (CAT.N), which competes with GE in railroad locomotives, earlier this week cut its long-term 2015 growth target, warning investors that it was bracing for several years of "anemic" global economic growth.
United Tech told investors on Thursday it expects to grow earnings by an unspecified amount in 2013, helped by recovering demand in North America for heating and cooling equipment.
GE shares have rebounded strongly from their recessionary lows and are up roughly 25 percent so far this year, outpacing the 10 percent rise in the Dow Jones industrial average .DJI, of which GE is the sole remaining original component.
(Reporting By Scott Malone; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Leslie Gevirtz)