Industrial conglomerate and financial services powerhouse General Electric (NYSE:GE) reported first quarter results on April 20, 2012 that consisted of many moving parts. On a reported basis, sales and profits fell, but by management's estimations of its core operations, the trends were firmly in the double digits. The key consideration for investors is what GE's growth will look like in future years, and given its size, it could prove difficult to move the needle on its top line.

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First Quarter Recap
Total reported revenues fell 8% to $35.2 billion, but increased 4% to $35 billion, when backing out the divestiture of NBC Universal in a transaction with cable giant Comcast (Nasdaq:CMCSA) (Nasdaq:CMCSK) (NYSE:CCS) that was announced at the end of 2009. Industrial sales advanced 13% to nearly $24 billion when backing out NBCU. Management detailed that organic growth was 11% and was led by strong trends in the oil and gas space, which reported 18% growth to $2.6 billion. Total energy infrastructure also reported 18% growth, while the transportation operations logged impressive 41% growth.

Reported earnings fell 4% to $3.3 billion, or 31 cents per share, but were again stronger when looking at GE's definition of operating earnings, which grew 1% to $3.6 billion. On a per-share basis, operating earnings advanced 3% to 34 cents per share, but when backing out NBCU and other one-time items, grew 17%. GE Capital, GE's financial segment, is a key contributor to profits and though net earnings were flat at $1.8 billion on a reported basis, they advanced 27% when backing out other nonrecurring items. The rest of the bottom line stemmed from the industrial businesses.

Outlook and Valuation
For the full year, analysts project very modest total revenue growth of 1.5% and total revenues of almost $150 billion. The consensus earnings estimate currently stands at $1.54 per share and would represent annual growth of more than 25%. At the current share price of $19, the forward P/E is about 10.79. This is below the market's forward earnings multiple of nearly 14, which is also roughly GE's average multiple over the past five years.

SEE: 5 Must-Have Metrics For Value Investors

The Bottom Line
GE is currently reasonably valued on an earnings basis and possesses an above-average dividend yield of 3.5%. However, it is difficult to get a gauge on what its sustainable earnings growth might look like going forward. To grow sales 10% annually, GE must add $15 billion through a combination of organic growth and acquisitions. This is equivalent to roughly half of rival Honeywell's (NYSE:HON) annual revenues. GE Capital will likely continue to improve and pay dividends to the parent company, but the continued increase in industrial activity will make double-digit revenue growth an uphill battle, given just how large GE is.

SEE: Analyzing An Acquisition Announcement

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At the time of writing, Ryan C. Fuhrmann did not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article.

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