updated 3/24/2005 3:15:16 PM ET 2005-03-24T20:15:16

General Electric Co., the nation’s biggest company, raised its first-quarter earnings forecast Thursday, citing strong performance across its businesses. It also expects to collect about $2.6 billion related to stock slaes in its insurance business, Genworth Financial Inc.

(MSNBC is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC, which is a GE company.)

The Fairfield, Conn.-based industrial, financial and media conglomerate lifted its first-quarter earnings target to 37 cents to 38 cents per share, up from 36 cents to 37 cents per share. It also backed its full-year earnings estimate of $1.76 to $1.83 per share.

Wall Street’s average forecasts for GE are currently 37 cents per share for the quarter and $1.81 per share for the year, based on a survey of 19 analysts by Thomson First Call.

GE shares rose 46 cents to $35.96 in premarket activity early Thursday after its forecast.

GE said it priced the secondary offering of 80.5 million shares of Genworth class A common stock at $26.50 per share. The conglomerate sold 30 percent of Genworth last year in an initial public offering, and is reducing its insurance holdings as it seeks to exit the insurance business.

At the time the offer closes, GE said that Genworth will buy back about 19.4 million shares of its class B common stock from GE for $500 million.

GE said it would receive proceeds of about $2.6 billion from the secondary offering and the share buyback, and would own about 52 percent of Genworth’s common stock.

GE said it plans to use the proceeds to pay off “parent-supported” debt at GE Capital, allowing GE Capital to raise the dividend it pays GE from 10 percent to 40 percent of its earnings starting in the second quarter.

Separately, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that GE is considering a bid for Dutch bank NIB Capital. The closely held Dutch commercial finance and investment bank is valued at more than $3 billion, the Journal reported, citing unidentified people close to the deal.

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