updated 1/16/2004 7:48:54 AM ET 2004-01-16T12:48:54

General Electric Co. reported fourth-quarter profits rose 47 percent as industrial orders rose strongly and a majority of the company's businesses achieved double-digit earnings growth.

The Fairfield-based conglomerate said Friday that earnings for the October-December period were $4.56 billion, or 45 cents per share, compared with $3.1 billion, or 31 cents per share, in the same period the prior year.

The results matched the consensus estimate of analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call.

Quarterly comparisons were affected by an after-tax charge of $1.4 billion in 2002.

"GE had a solid 2003, with eight of 13 businesses delivering double-digit earnings growth for the year," said GE chief executive Jeff Immelt. "We positioned our company for long-term value enhancement, reorganized our businesses around our customers and made major progress on our growth initiatives."

GE, the world's biggest company by market value, was encouraged by a 19 percent rise in fourth-quarter orders, Immelt said.

"The increase was broad-based, with all of our industrial businesses experiencing growth," Immelt said. "GE has strong momentum going into 2004," Immelt said.

Revenue in the fourth quarter was $37 billion, up 4 percent from $35.5 billion in the prior year.

For 2003, GE reported profits of $15 billion, or $1.49 per share, up 6 percent from $14.1 billion, or $1.41 per share, in 2002.

GE has said it expects to return to double-digit profit growth in 2005 after limited to modest gains this year.

GE traditionally had double-digit profit growth, but earnings have been sluggish in recent years as key businesses such as power turbines, aircraft engines and plastics have coped with weak industries.

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