General Electric Co. reported fourth-quarter sales below analysts’ estimates as the persistent slump in the oil market weighed on sales of industrial equipment.
“Revenue clearly was a bit light. Their cash flow was a bit light,” Nicholas Heymann, an analyst with William Blair & Co., said by telephone. “I don’t see any signs of big problems, but it was a grind quarter.”
GE is looking to regain momentum after a sluggish economy constrained growth in 2016 and pressured the company’s efforts to sharpen its focus on machinery such as gas turbines and jet engines. CEO Jeffrey Immelt is building a software business to complement the manufacturing operations while pursuing major deals, such as combining GE’s oil division with Baker Hughes Inc.
Revenue fell 2.4% to $33.1 billion, the Boston-based company said in a statement Friday. That was below the $33.9 billion predicted by analysts, according to the average of estimates compiled by Bloomberg.
While GE said it is “optimistic” about the U.S. economy, it cited a “slow-growth and volatile environment” in the fourth quarter, according to slides accompanying the release.
The shares declined 1% to $30.90 at 7:21 a.m. in New York before regular trading. GE gained 9.5% in the 12 months through Thursday, compared with a 20% advance for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.
Adjusted earnings fell to 46 cents a share, matching analysts’ estimates. Orders rose 4.3% in the quarter, but declined slightly on an organic basis.
Revenue climbed 20% in the power division, which is seeing higher shipments of a new gas turbine. GE Aviation, which is boosting production of a new jet engine, posted a 6.7% increase.
Sales tumbled 22% in the oil and gas unit, which has struggled amid the plunge and sluggish recovery of crude prices. GE hopes to capitalize on an eventual rebound through the Baker Hughes deal, which would create the world’s second-largest oilfield service provider and equipment maker. GE would own 62.5% of the combined company.
The manufacturer also is selling two divisions, water and industrial solutions, to help fund restructuring and free up cash for potential acquisitions. GE has said the water unit, which makes products for desalination and wastewater treatment, is generating significant interest from prospective buyers.
Operating earnings in 2017 will be $1.60 to $1.70 a share, GE said, reaffirming a forecast the company gave last month. Organic revenue is expected to increase 3% to 5%.
By Richard Clough