Another good sign is revenue growth. GE's revenue had slipped after it sold non-industrial assets like NBC Universal, and this has concerned investors. It started growing again in the second quarter and grew 4 percent in the final three months of 2012 compared with the year-earlier period.
"It's definitely important to see revenue growth," Holland said. "That's something that had been keeping investors from getting excited."
Fourth-quarter net income, including discontinued operations and pension costs, totaled $4 billion. Last year during the same period the company earned $3.7 billion on sales of $38 billion. Per share earnings rose to 38 cents from 35 cents.
GE shares rose 74 cents, or 3.5 percent, to close at $22.04 Friday. The stock closed at a 52-week high of $23.08 in October.
For all of 2012, GE posted net income of $13.6 billion, or $1.39 per share, on revenue of $147.4 billion. That's up from net income of $13.1 billion, or $1.24 per share, on revenue of $147.3 billion in 2011.
Jeff Sprague of Vertical Research Partners called GE's performance during the quarter "solid" but cautioned that the company's stock is expensive compared with that of similar companies. That may limit how high GE stock can rise, he said in a research note.
GE expects revenue and profit growth to continue this year. GE said its backlog of new business reached $210 billion, its highest ever. During the fourth quarter the company announced new contracts with Petrobras in Brazil and with Chevron in Angola to help those oil companies extract oil from deep waters off shore. It also announced orders for jet engines to power 50 airplanes for Alaska Airlines.
Jonathan Fahey can be reached at http://www.facebook.com/Fahey.Jonathan