General Electric Corp.'s fourth-quarter earnings rose and matched analyst expectations, but shares still slipped. A big reason: GE didn't meet its target for profit margins in its industrial businesses. It had hoped to improve margins by 0.7 percent for the year, and instead improved them by 0.66 percent. The profit margin GE earns from selling and servicing aircraft engines, locomotives, medical scanners and other devices is an important number for GE investors, and one that GE is pushing hard to improve. GE is in the process of transforming itself from a sprawling conglomerate to a simpler company, in hopes of becoming more profitable and attracting greater investor interest from those who are now turned off by the size of GE's banking division. On a conference call with investors, GE CEO Jeff Immelt explained that margins didn't grow as much as hoped because a manufacturing problem caused defects in some wind turbine blades, delaying shipments, and profits at GE's energy management division slumped. CFO Jeff Bornstein told investors the goal was to reach industrial profit margin of at least 17 percent by 2016 from 15.7 percent in 2013, in part by restructuring parts of the company and cutting costs. GE said it reduced costs by $1.6 billion in 2013. Immelt said he wants to reduce costs by more than $1 billion this year. Analysts wanted to know if GE plans to sell more businesses this year as it simplifies. "I think we'll continue to prune the portfolio where it makes sense. And there will be more transactions in 2014," said Bornstein.
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