GE profits drop 46% for 4th quarter

WASHINGTON — In a discouraging report for the American economy, General Electric Co. posted a 46 percent drop in quarterly earnings on Friday and warned of a "tough environment" in 2009 as it struggles with its ailing finance business.

The news caps a difficult year for one of the world's largest companies. Its businesses touch on most sectors of an economy mired in a recession, from light bulbs and TV stations to jet engines. And its longtime profit engine, GE Capital, has seen profits tumble as the slowdown forces business and consumers to limit borrowing or default on loans.

Despite that, the company reaffirmed plans to both pay its $1.24 dividend and defend its top AAA-rated credit after Standard & Poor's warned last month that there is a one-in-three chance GE will lose its AAA rating in the next two years.

GE reported earnings of $3.65 billion, or 35 cents per share, after paying preferred dividends. That was down from $6.7 billion, or 66 cents per share, a year earlier.

Results included $1.5 billion in charges related to the restructuring of GE Capital and increased reserves. The company also recorded $1.38 billion in tax benefits during the quarter.

Quarterly revenue slipped 5 percent to $46.2 billion.

The company is preparing for what should be a difficult 2009 as it pares down GE Capital, reduces its dependence on risky debt and tries to maintain growth on its industrial side as the recession worsens.