General Electric bullish on 2013

US industrial giant General Electric Friday closed out 2012 with a better-than-expected quarter and offered a bullish outlook for 2013.

The US conglomerate said fourth-quarter operating earnings, the number most closely watched by analysts, came in at 44 cents per share, one cent above the 43 cents forecast by analysts. Net income, which includes non-operating pension costs, came in at 38 cents per share.

General Electric, which builds power generation equipment, wind turbines and other industrial products, said all of the sub-units of General Electric's industrial division showed year-on-year gains, with double-digit percentage increases in oil and gas, energy management, aviation and transportation.

GE Capital, the company's financing unit, posted 9 percent year-on-year growth, the company said.

GE said it repurchased $2.1 billion in stock during the fourth quarter, and in December raised its quarterly dividend by 12 percent to 19 cents per share.

Chief executive Jeffrey Immelt gave a bullish outlook for 2013, pledging double-digit industrial earnings growth and promising to return "substantial cash" to investors.

Immelt at one point even seemed to suggest the company could undertake acquisitions, noting that it would have a "ton of cash" over the next three years.

In December, Immelt spoke of an "investment pause" in some sectors, partly linked to the protracted Washington policy debate on the fiscal cliff.

Analysts during a conference call observed that GE's new orders in the fourth quarter appeared to be somewhat more robust than implied by the company.

Immelt acknowledged that the end of the company's quarter came in "very strong" with orders "probably above what our expectations were."

Immelt also said the end of 2012 saw orders from China strengthen again, adding that "we believe the China momentum will likely continue into 2013." Strong sectors in China included the company's power and water, health care and aviation divisions.

A note from Deutsche Bank characterized the quality of GE's results Friday as "better than expected." A Bank of America note predicted that GE's quarter "should give the Street reassurance that it is on track to hit its growth target."

GE shares closed Friday at $22.04, up 3.5 percent.

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