updated 7/11/2008 12:14:01 PM ET 2008-07-11T16:14:01

Industrial and financial conglomerate General Electric Co. said Friday its profit fell 6 percent in the second quarter, and has agreed to sell its Japanese consumer finance business for $5.4 billion.

Fairfield-based GE earned $5.07 billion, or 51 cents per share, compared with a year-earlier profit of $5.38 billion, or 52 cents per share.

Revenue rose to $46.89 billion from $42.38 billion a year earlier.

On the basis of continuing operations, GE said it earned $5.39 billion, or 54 cents per share. Thomson Financial says analysts expected the company to report earnings of 54 cents per share on revenue of $45.31 billion.

“We believe we had a solid performance in a tough environment,” GE Chief Executive Jeff Immelt told analysts in a conference call Friday.

Growth internationally is “offsetting a sluggish U.S. economy” and GE’s long-term positioning outside the United States has shown benefits in the second quarter, he said.

Revenue rose 11 percent, but costs from sales, expenses and interest and other financial charges rose 15 percent, slicing into the conglomerate’s quarterly profit.

(Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal, which is a GE company.)

The earnings release Friday was a relief to investors who nervously awaited the results following first-quarter earnings reporting a nearly 6 percent decline in profits.

“No news is good news today, said analyst Matt Collins at Edward Jones in St. Louis. “I think investors were braced for the worst.”

Analyst Nicholas Heymann of Sterne Agee said investors are feeling confident again about GE.

“Overall, I think people are getting to be less fearful about the perceived risks vs. the actual risks of the GE portfolio or how they run the business,” he said.

GE said it had agreed to sell its Japanese consumer finance unit, which includes the Lake personal loan business, wholly owned credit cards and mortgages under GE Consumer Finance Co Ltd. and its subsidiaries, to Shinsei Bank, a midsize Japanese bank. The sale is expected to close in the next quarter.

It’s the most recent in a series of moves by GE to reshape its portfolio to focus on faster growth businesses. GE announced Thursday that it wants to spin off its lighting and appliance businesses, which are part of GE’s industrial products business.

On Friday, the segment reported sharply lower profit of $300 million for the quarter, down 32 percent from the same period last year. Chief Financial Officer Keith Sherin cited the housing market’s collapse and a run-up in commodity prices affecting appliances.

GE reaffirmed its full-year guidance of $2.20 to $2.30 per share, which is flat to an increase of 5 percent. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial expect full-year earnings of $2.22.

GE’s infrastructure business, which manufactures big-ticket items such as locomotives and water treatment plants and is making major inroads in developing countries, turned in the greatest revenue and profit gains for the second quarter. Revenue for the quarter was $17.5 billion, up 26 percent. Profit rose by 24 percent, to $3.17 billion.

Profit at GE Money fell by 9 percent, to $1.05 billion. GE Money provides retail, banking and credit services to consumers, retailers and auto dealers in 55 countries. The Japanese consumer finance unit being sold is part of GE Money.

Profit at GE’s commercial finance business rose to $1.39 billion, or 7 percent, which Immelt said was ahead of expectations.

And its Healthcare segment posted a profit rise of 8 percent, to $747 million. GE Healthcare’s surgery business started up in early May, 20 months after GE shut down a plant in Utah that made X-ray surgical equipment amid concerns over quality control.

In addition, GE officials on Friday highlighted a 7 percent gain in revenue and 1 percent increase in profit for NBC Universal. Chief Financial Officer Keith Sherin cited the success of NBC programs such as “The Office” and “House,” with strength particularly in cable TV.

GE also expects about $1 billion in advertising for NBC’s coverage of the Olympics in Beijing, which begins next month.

Immelt has made clear that NBC is not for sale, despite calls by some analysts for such a move.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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