UPDATE 3-GE CEO says growth and dividend hike ahead

* Plans to add jobs in U.S. in coming months

* GE an ‘industrial company first,’ CEO says

* Dividend hike ‘at least’ in 2011

* Shares up 1.2 pct in afternoon
(Adds details on attendance, CEO comments, updates share
price)

By Scott Malone

HOUSTON, April 28 (BestGrowthStock) – General Electric Co (GE.N: ) is
returning to “good, solid” earnings growth and plans to raise
its dividend “at least” by 2011, Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt
told investors on Wednesday.

“The clouds are breaking and the forecast ahead of us is
promising,” Immelt told the annual meeting of the largest U.S.
conglomerate in Houston, where the company has substantial
operations related to the oil and natural gas industry.

The world’s largest maker of jet engines and electric
turbines sees demand starting to rebound in its key markets,
and expects to resume adding jobs in the United States in the
coming months, Immelt said.

But it will take renewed investment by businesses, more
than just consumer spending, to drive the U.S. economy out of
its worst downturn since the Great Depression.

“Typically, in a recovery, the consumer might be 70 percent
of the tail wind, if you will; and I just don’t think the
consumer is going to be as much,” Immelt told reporters ahead
of the meeting.

The Fairfield, Connecticut-based company looks for profit
growth to resume next year. It cut its dividend 68 percent
during the credit crunch and conducted company-wide
cost-cutting that reduced its headcount by about 26,000 to
about 304,000 people worldwide.

DIVIDEND GOING UP ‘SOON’

Immelt faced a crowd of some 300 shareholders, about half
last year’s attendance, and the meeting was generally more
sedate than in 2009, when irate shareholders spent two hours
raking Immelt over the coals for the dividend cut.

But the bulk of the questions he faced related to the
dividend.

“Every GE retiree I know was counting on the dividend to
supplement their pension. It’s been a big hit for them,” said
Kevin Mahar, 67, of Lynn, Massachusetts, who is retired from
GE’s turbine and aircraft engines businesses.

Immelt said he heard their cry.

“I know how important the dividend is. Earnings growth is
reappearing for GE. Your dividend is going up again soon,”
Immelt said. Pressed for more specifics, he said, “It’ll be at
least ’11.”

He noted the investor fear that 13 months ago drove GE
shares to an 18-year-low of $5.87 has abated.

“I think we’re back to fundamentals,” Immelt, who has run
the company since September 2001, told reporters. “We think it
gets back to what is the growth rate, what is cash flow, what
is underlying. I think that’s where the world is.”

GE shares have since more than tripled from the $6 level,
and were up 1.2 percent at $18.92 on the New York Stock
Exchange on Wednesday afternoon.

RETURN TO ITS ROOTS

The financial crisis and recession took a heavy toll on GE,
bringing nine straight quarters of profit declines and briefly
pounding its shares to two-decade lows.

Immelt, 54, said the company has learned profound lessons
from that experience and is determined to streamline itself
into a simpler business focused on its core industrial
businesses, supported by a smaller finance arm.

“We’re an industrial company first,” said Immelt, who has
led efforts to scale back the GE Capital finance arm and
negotiated a deal to sell the company’s NBC Universal media
business to No. 1 U.S. cable operator Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O: ).
“A simple focus on infrastructure and financial services we
think is going to be critically important as we go forward.”

Buying back the preferred shares GE sold to Warren
Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N: ) is also one of the
company’s top priorities.

Money

(Reporting by Scott Malone, additional reporting by Eileen
O’Grady, editing by Dave Zimmerman, Tim Dobbyn and Matthew
Lewis)

UPDATE 3-GE CEO says growth and dividend hike ahead