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GE lowers profit guidance, suspends stock buybacks

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[September 25, 2008]  FAIRFIELD, Conn. (AP) -- General Electric Co. lowered its earnings guidance for the third quarter and the full year on Thursday and suspended its stock buyback plan, saying "unprecedented" weakness and volatility in the financial services markets has weighed on its GE Capital segment.

The company, a Wall Street bellwether that makes everything from light bulbs to health care technologies and owns the NBC television network, also reaffirmed its commitment to maintaining a 'AAA' credit rating, and outlined steps to bolster its capital and liquidity position -- including restructuring GE to boost the ratio of industrial earnings to financial profits to 60 percent-40 percent by the end of 2009.

GE's board also approved maintaining a 31 cent quarterly dividend, totally $1.24 per share annually, through next year.

The diversified conglomerate now expects to report third-quarter profit of 43 cents to 48 cents per share -- down from prior guidance of 50 cents to 54 cents per share. For the full year, profit is now forecast between $1.95 and $2.10 per share, instead of $2.20 to $2.30 per share.


On average, analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial have forecast quarterly earnings of 52 cents per share and full-year profit of $2.21 per share.

GE said it now expects its financial services businesses will earn about $2 billion in the third quarter, hurt by current market conditions. It said it expects industrial earnings strength, led by strong performance in its infrastructure and media businesses.

In the second quarter, the GE Money and Commercial Finance segments made a combined profit of $2.45 billion. GE's financial services offerings include commercial loans, fleet management, financial programs, home loans, insurance, credit cards and personal loans, among other products.

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In a move to trim debt ratios, the Fairfield, Conn.-based company said it will boost capital in its GE Capital division by reducing the 40 percent dividend GE Capital pays GE on its earnings to 10 percent, and by suspending GE's current stock repurchase program.

GE Capital does not need to raise any additional long-term debt for the remainder of 2008, the company asserted, but said it will reduce GE Capital's commercial paper to between 10 percent and 15 percent of the financial services unit's total debt going forward.

"Given the recent dramatic developments in the financial markets, we have made some tough decisions to further reduce risk and strengthen our balance sheet while maintaining our dividend," said GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt in a statement.

[Associated Press]

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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