General Electric Co.'s chief executive officer on Wednesday defended the industrial conglomerate's broad array of businesses and his decisions to sell off several units.
Jeffrey Immelt has been under pressure to shed more businesses, particularly after the Fairfield-based company's disappointing first-quarter earnings release last month in which profit fell 6 percent, to $4.3 billion.
The buying and selling of assets that the company has completed "never felt wimpy to me as we've gone through the portfolio transition," he told investor analysts at the Electrical Products Group conference in Longboat Key, Fla. "This never seemed small."
GE announced last Friday that it plans to sell or spin off its Louisville, Ky.-based appliance business as part of a plan to exit slower growth and more volatile businesses. The company has already sold its insurance, plastics and other businesses.
He singled out NBC-Universal and GE Healthcare as strong businesses for GE. Each will grow in the single digits this year, but will improve over the long term, Immelt said.
(Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)
"Even while the network business might experience slower growth, we've got a chance to drive earnings from a content and cost standpoint," he said.
He said cable and digital TV and global business are generating "consistent double-digit earnings over time."
Revenue for NBC in 2007 was $15.4 billion, down about 5 percent from nearly $16.2 billion the previous year.
Immelt defended GE's health care business. The company is not expecting a large increase in the U.S. diagnostic imaging market, but sees strong international markets, he said.
Revenue for the health care business in 2007 was about $17 billion, up 3 percent from $16.5 billion the previous year.
Analyst Nicholas Heymann of Sterne Agee said in an investor note Wednesday that GE is under pressure to change.
"GE's CEO definitely 'gets it' that fixing GE's long-term growth potential is now job No. 1 and is absolutely critical if GE is to regain its stature as a company capable of sustainable above-average performance."
He said GE must improve earnings while boosting business in its infrastructure unit, GE's powerhouse division that makes locomotives, water treatment plants, jet engines and other big-ticket products. It generated nearly $58 billion in revenue last year.
"There's not one of those businesses that I'm not happy to be out of right now to be honest with you," Immelt said of the units the company has sold. "Did we time them all at the top of the market? Probably not, but there's not one I would have waited on."
He reiterated revenue estimates for the year of about $187 billion and earnings of between $22 billion and $23 billion. Both are in line with estimates of analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial.
Immelt also reiterated per-share earnings for the year of between $2.20 and $2.30. GE cut its outlook in April from at least $2.42 a share.
GE shares closed at $30.99, down 73 cents, or about 2.3 percent.