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General Electric's (GE) Q4 EPS of $0.28 beat consensus estimates by $0.02. Revenue of $41.4B was stronger than the $40B analysts expected.

Shares fell more than 1% in premarket trading.

Analysts were lukewarm about the results:

"It doesn't really change our view too much. You can't get any optimism out of this, or any pessimism out of it. Revenue looks pretty good. I think overall it's a fairly good report but in line with what we were expecting. Everything except commercial real estate seems to be doing a little bit better. Commercial real estate always seems to be a question mark for them... Possibly they're softening people up for further writedowns in 2010; we could continue to see that." - Thomas Villalta, Jones Villalta Opportunity Fund

"This is a quarter where just beating on the bottom line on cost cutting just isn't going to cut it anymore. We have seen a number of big examples already. Even companies that have actually come through beating both bottom and top line have also been hit. Before you could do anything and your shares will be bought. You have really to beat bottom and top line by such a huge margin to see benefit on your shares. I think investors are a little bit tired and there is nothing to persuade them that they should be buying this market." - David Morrison, GFT Global

Highlights from GE's Q4 earnings release:

GE announced today fourth-quarter 2009 earnings from continuing operations (attributable to GE) of $3 billion, or $0.28 per share. Revenues were $41.4 billion for the quarter and $157 billion for the year.

“GE’s environment has improved and we saw some encouraging signs at year-end,” GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt said. “Fourth-quarter Infrastructure orders increased $3.7 billion from third quarter to $22.1 billion. Total company backlog of equipment and services increased slightly from the prior quarter to a record $175 billion. Service orders remained strong, growing 14% for the quarter. Our Healthcare business experienced solid orders growth and enters 2010 with a higher backlog than last year. Non-earning assets declined $0.6 billion in the quarter and Consumer delinquencies are stabilizing.

“We continue to operate the company with discipline,” Immelt said. “Cash generated from GE Industrial operating activities totaled $5.1 billion in the quarter and $16.6 billion for the year. At year-end, we have $72 billion of consolidated cash. Industrial margins are strong and improved to 17.7% for the fourth quarter, up 40 bps over 2008. We recorded $2.2 billion after tax of restructuring and other charges in 2009, allowing us to lower cost and strengthen our long-term outlook.

“Capital Finance is executing well in a difficult environment, earning $0.3 billion in the quarter and $2.3 billion for the year,” Immelt said. “Every segment at GE Capital was profitable with the exception of Commercial Real Estate, which continues to operate in a difficult environment. We completed 100% of our 2010 long-term funding plan for GE Capital, and have raised about $4.4 billion in 2010 that will go towards our 2011 plan. Capital Finance reserves increased $0.7 billion to $8.1 billion.

Restructuring and other charges of $0.09 per share were partially offset by other benefits in the quarter, including $0.01 per share in after-tax transaction gains and a $0.05 per share tax benefit from a lower industrial tax rate.

Significant new global partnerships and sizeable Infrastructure wins were among fourth-quarter highlights. GE agreed to team with the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China to power China's newest commercial aircraft in development, the C919, and established a joint venture with China Aviation Industry Corporation to develop and market integrated avionics systems. In addition, the company won: a $1.4 billion commitment from Caithness Energy for what could be the world’s largest wind farm by output; a 15-year, $1 billion engine service agreement with Brazilian airline Azul Linhas Aéreas; a 100-locomotive order from South Africa's state-owned rail freight logistics utility, Transnet Ltd.; a $1.3 billion contract to supply equipment and long-term services to help boost Kuwait's electricity production; and an American Airlines commitment to use the GEnx-1B engine for its expected order of 42 firm Boeing 787 aircraft plus 58 options.

“During the difficult economy of 2009, we took a series of actions to improve GE so that we would be positioned for growth in the future,” Immelt said. “We have repositioned GE Capital to be safer and more focused. We have lowered our cost base and simplified our portfolio. At the same time, we grew GE R&D spend by 7%, expanded our product lines and made dynamic global investments. We are positioned to win in this environment.”

Full-year and Fourth-quarter 2009 Financial Highlights:

Full-year earnings from continuing operations attributable to GE were $11.2 billion, down 38% from $18.1 billion in 2008. EPS from continuing operations was $1.03, down 42% from last year. Segment profit fell 27% compared with 2008, as 13% growth at Energy Infrastructure and 10% growth at Consumer & Industrial were more than offset by declines of 73% at Capital Finance, 28% at NBC Universal and 8% at Technology Infrastructure.

Including the effects of discontinued operations, full year net earnings attributable to GE were $11.0 billion ($1.01 per share attributable to common shareowners) in 2009 compared with $17.4 billion ($1.72 per share attributable to common shareowners) in 2008.

Full-year revenues decreased 14% to $156.8 billion. GE Capital Services’ (GECS) revenues fell 24% compared with last year to $54.2 billion. Industrial sales were $103.5 billion, down 8% from 2008.

Fourth-quarter earnings from continuing operations attributable to GE were $3.0 billion, down 22% from $3.9 billion in the fourth quarter of 2008. EPS from continuing operations was $0.28, down 22% from the fourth quarter of last year. Segment profit declined 16% compared with the fourth quarter of 2008, as 9% growth at Energy Infrastructure and 278% growth at Consumer & Industrial were more than offset by declines of 67% at Capital Finance, 30% at NBC Universal and 16% at Technology Infrastructure.

Including the effects of discontinued operations, fourth-quarter net earnings attributable to GE were $3.0 billion ($0.28 per share attributable to common shareowners) compared with $3.7 billion ($0.35 per share attributable to common shareowners) in the fourth quarter of 2008.

Fourth-quarter revenues fell 10% to $41.4 billion. GECS revenues fell 14% versus last year to $13.5 billion. Industrial sales were $28.3 billion, down 9% from 2008.

Cash generated from GE Industrial operating activities in 2009 totaled $16.6 billion, down 1% from $16.7 billion last year.

“Last month, we reviewed a 2010 financial framework that was about flat with 2009,” Immelt said. “We believe this framework is quite achievable and sets us up for solid growth in 2011 and beyond. Moreover, due to the company’s strong cash position, we will have an opportunity to keep GE secure and create long-term shareholder value.”

Source: GE Ekes Out a Beat