The industrial and financial giant reported net income of $4.46 billion, or 42 cents per share, for the final three months of the year. That compares with $2.94 billion, or 28 cents per share, for the same period in 2009.
Earnings from continuing operations were 36 cents a share, which tops analyst's expectations for earnings of 32 cents, according to FactSet. GE said revenue grew year-over-year for the first time in nine quarters, increasing 1 percent to $41.4 billion. Wall Street expected revenue of $40.3 billion.
Shares rose 3.6 percent in premarket trading to $19.10.
Orders, an indication of future business, grew 12 percent from a year ago. Equipment orders rose 20 percent increase while orders in the services business rose 5 percent. Orders grew 4 percent at GE's energy infrastructure business. That business accounted for a quarter of GE's operating revenue and more than a third of GE's operating profit in 2010.
GE's total backlog stood at a record $175 billion on Dec. 31.
Jeff Immelt, GE chairman and CEO, said that GE Capital experienced a surge in activity in the fourth quarter and had net income of $1.1 billion. Loan volume increased 30 percent and losses and impairments dropped by $300 million from the third quarter.
GE also reported increased profits of 38 percent at NBC Universal. GE expects to close the sale of a majority stake in NBC to Comcast this quarter.
Profit rose 11 percent in GE's technology infrastructure business and 6 percent in home and business solutions.
GE has made a number of moves to expand its energy business.
It agreed in October to buy turbine-maker Dresser Inc. for $3 billion. In December, GE said it would acquire Wellstream Holdings PLC, which makes pipes and other equipment for deep-water oil production, for $1.3 billion. And GE said last week it would buy electrical equipment maker Lineage Power Holdings Inc. for $520 million.
GE expects profits will be driven by industrial growth in China. Immelt said in December that GE's industrial division, which makes everything from windmill turbines to ventilation fans, should see double-digit revenue growth from its businesses in the country.