General Electric Co. said Friday that fourth-quarter net income increased 52 percent as the company made more money in both its lending and industrial businesses.
The lending arm, GE Capital, drove the company's results in the final three months of 2010 as it dealt with fewer loan defaults. Risky loans hammered the company during the financial crisis, forcing GE to book huge writedowns.
Industrial sales also rose during the fourth quarter and orders for equipment, an indication of future business, jumped 20 percent.
"GE exits 2010 with significant momentum," CEO Jeff Immelt said. The company also is benefiting from the Obama administration's recent diplomatic and trade efforts with India and China.
The results show that rising energy and raw material costs so far haven't cooled off global demand for consumer products.
"Most of the growth is coming from overseas," Edward Jones analyst Matt Collins said. "China, India, the Middle East and other emerging markets, they're investing in infrastructure." GE relies so heavily on emerging markets for sales that it's no longer considered a bellwether of the U.S. economy, analysts said.
GE signed $1.6 billion worth of deals in India on the heels of President Obama's recent trip there, including $750 million in contracts with India's Reliance Power.
On Wednesday, as Chinese President Hu Jintao visited the U.S., the White House said GE will form a clean-energy venture with Shenhua Energy Co. GE estimates the deal has the potential to generate up to $2.5 billion in U.S. exports.
Immelt has said he expects GE's profits will be driven by industrial growth in China. In November he pledged that GE will invest $2 billion through 2012 to help China tackle its energy and infrastructure needs.
GE, which makes products from dishwashers to wind turbines, and finances large projects around the globe, said net income in the final three months of the year rose to $4.46 billion, or 42 cents per share, from $2.94 billion, or 28 cents per share, a year ago.
Earnings from continuing operations were 36 cents a share. That topped analysts' expectations of 32 cents per share, according to FactSet.
GE said revenue grew year-over-year for the first time in nine quarters, increasing 1 percent to $41.4 billion. Wall Street expected revenue of $40.3 billion.
Overall orders grew 12 percent from a year ago. Besides the increase in equipment orders, services business orders rose 5 percent. Immelt noted that orders grew 4 percent at GE's energy infrastructure business, which accounted for a quarter of GE's operating revenue and more than a third of GE's operating profit last year.
GE's total backlog stood at a record $175 billion on Dec. 31.
GE has made a number of acquisitions recently to expand its energy business. It agreed in October to buy turbine-maker Dresser Inc. for $3 billion. In December, GE said it would acquire Wellstream Holdings PLC, which makes pipes and other equipment for deep-water oil production, for $1.3 billion. And GE said last week it would buy electrical equipment maker Lineage Power Holdings Inc. for $520 million.
GE Capital saw a surge of activity in the fourth quarter. Net income soared to $1.1 billion from $99 million in the year-ago period. Loan volume increased 30 percent and losses and impairments dropped by $300 million from the third quarter.
The Fairfield, Conn., company also said profit rose 38 percent at NBC Universal. GE expects to close the sale of a majority stake in NBC to Comcast this quarter.
GE shares rose $1.31, or 7.1 percent, to $19.74 on Friday.