GE profit tops estimates as cost-cutting kicks in

(Reuters) - General Electric Co GE.N posted quarterly results that topped expectations on Friday, as earnings from aviation, healthcare and transportation offset weak power and oil-and-gas profits, sending shares sharply higher.

FILE PHOTO: A pedestrian walks past a General Electric (GE) facility in Medford, Massachusetts, U.S., April 20, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

GE affirmed its forecast for 2018 earnings and cash flow, and said it expects to book as much as $10 billion in proceeds from divesting industrial assets this year. Those comments eased concern that GE would post poor results.

GE’s profit reflected 7-percent revenue growth and vigorous cost cutting. Revenue rose in aviation, oil-and-gas and healthcare, offsetting declines in power, transportation, lighting and renewable energy. GE sliced $1 billion in costs, including $800 million in industrial structural costs.

GE’s shares were up 3.8 percent to $14.52 on Thursday. The stock has lost more than half its value in the past last year.

But GE also took a $1.5-billion reserve charge for potential costs associated with its discontinued WMC mortgage business, formerly part GE Capital.

The U.S. Department of Justice has been investigating the activities of GE’s former mortgage unit during the subprime mortgage crisis, since 2015. GE said settlement discussions with the DOJ in March and analysis of other banks’ reserves prompted it to take the charge, but it sees limited impact to results.

“We do not expect this to change our view on GE Capital with regards to cash and liquidity,” GE Chief Financial Officer Jamie Miller said on a conference call with analysts.

Excluding adjustments, GE earned $369 million, or 4 cents a share, on revenue of $28.7 billion. That compared with 1 cent a share a year ago.

While several analysts thought GE handily beat forecasts, others cited the unadjusted earnings as being more telling.

“I’m looking at it as coming in as expected,” analyst Jeff Windau at Edward Jones, said of the results and the adjustments. “And expectations were low.”

JPMorgan analyst Steve Tusa was among those who said GE may cut its full-year earnings forecast in coming months. While results were “not that bad” compared with other quarters, Tusa said, negative free cash flow of $1.68 billion was weaker than he expected. GE typically reports negative cash flow early in the year as it spends on inventory shipped later in the year.

GE earned an adjusted 16 cents per share, up from a restated 14 cents a share a year earlier. Analysts on average had expected 11 cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. GE recently restated 2017 results to reflect changes in accounting standards.

Analysts had forecast GE’s profit to decline in the first quarter and some thought Friday’s results might fail to meet even those diminished expectations.

But the company’s aviation, transportation and healthcare businesses produced double-digit profit growth in the quarter, boosting overall results.

Profit at GE’s power business fell 38 percent on a 9 percent decline in sales; orders dropped 29 percent.

“The industry continues to be challenging and is trending softer than our forecast,” GE said of the power business.

Profit in GE’s oil and gas unit fell 30 percent, excluding restructuring and other charges, GE said.

Reporting by Alwyn Scott in New York and Rachit Vats in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Nick Zieminski