GE CEO would love 'flat' in '09

Jeff Immelt talked company's future with investors

Jeff Immelt told investors Tuesday that NBC Universal's business could shrink next year but added that "we've got a fighting chance to be flat."

Immelt, CEO of GE, the parent of NBC Uni, called the network and stations business particularly tough, but he also praised executives for their decision to create a 10 p.m. show for Jay Leno after he leaves "The Tonight Show" next year.

The new Leno show, he said, is "a margin enhancer in the primetime schedule" because it will save costs while still attracting advertisers and a robust audience.

Immelt's presentation, though, focused little on NBC Uni in favor of addressing the company as a whole and its troubled GE Capital unit, which will account for about 30% of GE's earnings next year, down from the customary 40% in recent years.

The CEO also confirmed the company's outlook for 2008 but said, going forward, no quarterly earnings forecasts will be offered, only operating "frameworks" on a full-year basis.

He also reiterated that GE would pay its shareholders a 31-cent dividend per share, per quarter next year.

Wall Street cheered Immelt's presentation by bidding shares 5.7% higher Tuesday to $17.92, outpacing a broad-market rally that had the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbing 4.2%.

The stock, though, has been cut in half this year, dropping the company's market capitalization to $178 billion, putting it just behind Microsoft on the list of the world's most valuable companies.