NEW YORK – General Electric’s new focus on oil and gas equipment helped the company to post strong first-quarter results.

GE posted lower overall first-quarter net income than a year ago, but that’s only due to the sale of NBC Universal during that period. The company said Thursday that its industrial divisions, especially oil and gas, performed well and that the global economic environment was improving.

“U.S. gets a little bit better every day. Europe is improving. The growth markets continue to expand and will provide growth during the year even with volatility,” said CEO Jeff Immelt on a call with investors.

GE earned $3 billion on revenue of $34.18 billion in the year’s first three months, down from $3.5 billion on revenue of $34.94 billion during the same period last year.

On a per share basis, GE earned 30 cents.

Adjusted to reflect continuing operations and to remove the effect of one-time charges, GE earned 33 cents per share.

GE calculates that earnings per share rose 9 percent compared with last year, when the sale of NBC Universal and other items are removed.

Analysts had expected GE to earn 32 cents per share, on average, on sales of $34.45 billion, according to FactSet. GE shares rose 2.4 percent to $26.74 in morning trading Thursday.

GE sold its remaining interest in NBC Universal last year as part of a new focus on building and servicing big, complicated industrial equipment such as aircraft engines, power plant turbines and oil and gas drilling equipment.

The next step for GE in that direction will be to complete a public offering of its consumer credit card division, expected later this year.