Record profits for General Electric

Global industrial behemoth General Electric enjoyed record profits in 2004 thanks to strong performances from established business such as aero-engines and new sectors including security technology.

The US corporation — one of the world’s largest businesses which employs 15,000 people in the UK — made $16.6bn (£9bn) last year, an 11 per cent rise on the 2003 figure, from sales of $152bn (£81bn).Its fourth-quarter performance was especially strong, with profits roaring ahead 18 per cent to $5.4bn (£3bn) on record sales of $43.7bn (£23bn).

GE said nine of its 11 businesses delivered double-digit profits growth in the final quarter of 2004, including its engineering andtechnology-led activities in sectors such as aircraft engines, healthcare, energy and advanced materials.

The group’s transportation division — a major competitor to the UK’s Rolls-Royce — received $3.6bn (£2bn) worth of new aircraft engine service contracts in the fourth quarter, as well as $600m (£320m) in commercial aero-engine orders from the likes of Bombardier and Lufthansa.

Transportation also saw significant railway orders, including the first from the Chinese Ministry of Rail for two decades.

One of the fourth-quarter highlights of GE’s healthcare division came in the UK, where it signed an agreement with Fujitsu Services to provide NHS hospitals with digital imaging technology for storage and retrieval of patient records.

The energy division saw orders for oil and gas equipment rise by a third. Its wind turbine business also enjoyed significant growth, including the second half of a 207-turbine order from MidAmerican Energy Company, which is building one of the world’s largest wind-generation facilities in Iowa.

Like many technology groups, GE is pouring resources into developing systems for the burgeoning homeland security market, which has grown significantly since September 11 due to increased US fears over terrorist attacks. Late last year GE received the green light from federal authorities to launch an x-ray diffraction system capable of identifying the chemical signature of explosives on baggage.

The group also completed commercial testing of an RFID-based anti-tampering technology for sea cargo containers.

In advanced materials, GE linked up with Goodyear to launch an all-weather tyre called Assurance based on NXT silane, a liquid coupling agent developed by the group’s scientists.

GE’s materials specialists also introduced Azdel Rail-Lite, a flame-retardant high-strength composite material that will be used to develop new components for China’s railway system as part of an upgrade ahead of the 2008 Olympics.

The progress in GE’s engineering and technology operations underpinned a strong performance by the diversified group’s bewildering array of other interests in service-based industries, which range from consumer credit to entertainment giant NBC Universal.