General Electric (GE) is on track to cut fixed costs by $1 billion in 2017, one of the targets set in talks with activist Nelson Peltz's Trian Fund Management, and CEO Jeffrey Immelt expects the reductions to pick up speed later in the year.
The Boston-based conglomerate reduced expenses by about $375 million in the three months through March before boosting spending in its digital manufacturing business and raising wages by about $80 million, executives said on an earnings call. That left a net reduction of about $76 million.
"The goals for industrial operating profit and structural cost-out are in sight," Immelt said on the call.
Operating earnings from manufacturing businesses including power, jet engines, locomotives and medical devices rose 9.6% to $3.6 billion in the first quarter, according to a company presentation Friday. That showed the payoff from Immelt's strategy of refocusing the company founded by Thomas Edison on its manufacturing roots while moving out of non-core businesses like consumer credit cards, broadcast and entertainment.
Altogether, industrial profit and earnings from finance businesses the company is retaining after winding down its once-sprawling lending division reached 21 cents, well ahead of the 17-cent average from analysts surveyed by FactSet.
"GE had a good quarter in a slow-growth and volatile environment," Immelt said. The company benefited from a $3.4 billion sale of its water business that "exceeded our expectations," he added, and completed $7 billion of loan-portfolio sales.
Total revenue of $27.7 billion was down 1% but still topped forecasts. On an organic basis, excluding the sale of GE Appliances completed a year ago, revenue increased 7%, and orders were 10% higher.
The company maintained its full-year earnings target of as much as $1.70 a share, with 9 cents to 10 cents a share coming from the Alstom power business that GE purchased for $10.6 billion in 2015.
The deal added about a penny a share to earnings in the three months through March, and most of the profit contribution will come later in the year, CFO Jeff Bornstein said in an interview Friday.
GE's other large-equipment businesses "earn most of what they earn in the second half of the year, and I don't think Alstom is going to look much different," he said.