General Electric Co., citing "higher sales and strong operating margin rates," yesterday said its 1977 profits topped $1 billion for the first time over.

GE Chairman Reginald Jones said earnings climbed to $1.088 billion ($4.79 a share) from $930.6 million ($4.12) a year ago. Revenues rose to $17.5 billion, up from $15.7 billion.

For the fourth quarter, the Fairfield, Conn.-based firm earned $332 million ($1.46 up from $292.2 million ($1.29) in the last quarter of 1976. Revenues reached $4.72 billion from $4.52 billion.

Jones said that GE - the nation's leading producer of electronic and electrical equipment - expects to increase its investment in new property, plant and equipment 15 percent to 20 percent from the $820 million spent in 1977.

He also said, "GE has a strong orders backlog, and we are seeing an encouraging flow of new orders. The fundamentals are in place for the beginning of a good year." Sales of consumer products and services in 1977 "were substantially ahead of 1976 and generated good earnings leverage," he said, adding that major appliances, air conditioning and lighting products also had a strong year.

Union Carbide Corp. said overseas' reluctance to price increases needed to offset higher costs led to lower earnings in 1977.

The company said profits declined to $385.6 million ($6.06 a share) from $441.2 million ($7.15) for 1976. Sales climbed to $7.03 billion from $6.35 billion.

Fourth-quarter profits increased to $108.1 million ($1.68) from $105.1 million ($1.69). Sales increased 11 percent from the same period a year ago to $1.82 billion.

Chairman William S. Sneath said fourth-quarter results included an after-tax loss of 34 cents a share from foreign currency translations and exchange adjustments compared with 4 cents in the fourth quarter of 1976.

Monsanto co. said fourth-quarter and full-year earnings took a sharp dip, primarily because of losses stemming from the dollar's drop in value abroad.

The company, a producer of chemical and industrial products, also said inventory adjustments by its major customers helped reduce earnings for the quarter.

Net profits for the period totaled $21 million (58 cents a share) compared with $47.6 million ($1.27) in the final 1976 quarter. The company had foreign currency translation losses equal to 60 cents a share during the period, compared with a 3-cent gain a year earlier.

For the year, the company earned $275.3 million ($7.46) against $366.3 million ($10.05) a year ealier.

Sales for the quarter were $1.09 billion, up from the $1.03 billion in the final 1976 period for the year, $4.6 billion against $4.3 billion.

Washington Steel Corp. said first-quarter earnings gained 12.6 per cent to $1.02 million (70 cents a share) over $233.240 (60 cents) for the same period of a year ago.

Sales climbed to $23.18 million from $20.94 million the previous year.

George P. Baumunk, president, attributed the rise to increased demand of flat rolled stainless products as well as abrusive specialties.

The Southland Corp. reported all-time record sales and earnings for 1977.

The company said profits jumped 18.1 per cent to $47.39 million ($2.45 a share) from $40.28 million ($2.10) a year earlier. Sales climbed 20 per cent to $2.544 billion from $2.121 billion a year earlier.

Fourth quarter earnings increased 9.1 percent to $10.19 million (52 cents) from $9.35 million (49 cents) Revenues rose 21.6 per cent to $665.5 million compared with $547.2 million a year earlier.

The company's 7-Eleven Stores division had sales of $2.1 billion.

McDonnel Douglas Corp. reported a sharp increase in full-year and fourth-quarter earnings.

The airplane manufacturer said profits rose to $123 million ($3.20 a share) from $108.9 million ($2.85) for 1976. Sales were nearly flat, however, with 1977's at $3.544 billion compared with $3.543 billion for 1976.

Fourth-quarter earnings rose to $34.3 million (89 cents) from $28.4 million (74 cents) while sales increased to $1.1 billion from $988.6 million a year earlier.

The company said its order backlog as of Dec. 31 totaled $4.6 billion compared with $3 billion at the end of 1976.

UAL, Inc., reported sharply higher 1977 earnings of $138.26 billion ($5.54 a share) compared with $19.04 million (75 cents) for 1976 due to an extraordinary gain of $45.34 million ($1.82) resulting from a debenture exchange.

UAL directors also raised the regular quarterly dividend from 5 cents to 20 cents per common share in "recognition of the substantially improved performance." The dividend is payable March 15 to shareholders of record Feb. 15.

The company said consolidated revenues exceeded $3 billion for the first time, rising 11.5 percent to $3.27 billion from $2.93 billion in 1976.

UAL is the holding company for United Airlines, Western International Hotels and GAB Business Services.

Delta Air Lines also reported a dramatic rise in earnings for its second quarter to $33.5 million (93 cents) on operating revenues of $508.6 million.

The results include 39 cents a share