GE CEO Immelt says global economy is improving

By Scott Malone

SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - General Electric Co <GE.N> believes the global economy is continuing to improve and that rising oil prices have not yet taken a toll on growth, the largest U.S. conglomerate's chief executive said.

The U.S. economy is also improving, he added, although the housing sector remains a weak spot.

The future of the nuclear power industry is unclear in the wake of the disaster at Japan's Fukushima power plant, where GE designed the turbines, Immelt said.

"It's too soon to say what the future of the nuclear business is going to be," he said.

The world's largest maker of jet engines and electric turbines has seen its stock price more than triple from its recessionary lows below $6, though the shares remain at about half their level before Immelt took the top job from Jack Welch a decade ago.

Immelt noted that even through the recession and financial crisis, "in every year we earned more money than when the stock traded at an all-time high."

GE shares were up 1.7 percent to $20.44 in midday trade on the New York Stock Exchange.

The Fairfield, Connecticut-based company has raised its dividend three times by a total of 50 percent since last July, pushing the quarterly payout to 15 cents per share, in line with the company's goal of paying out 45 percent of profit to shareholders.

But the dividend is still less than half the 31 cents a share GE was paying quarterly before it slashed the payout during the financial crisis.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and John Wallace)