Fiat Chrysler Q1 profits soar to $540 million

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV exceeded Wall Street expectations Tuesday, with a profit of 478 million euros ($539.4 million) for the first quarter of this year.

The automaker attributed the 451-million euro ($508.9 million) increase compared with a year ago to a 15 percent increase in global Jeep sales, recovering business in Europe and continuing strong performance in North America.

“We see nothing negative on the horizon,” said Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne during a conference call Tuesday with news media and financial analysts. “The outlook for the year continues to be strong.”

All of the automaker’s regions were profitable, although Asia-Pacific and its luxury Maserati operations were down from the first quarter of 2015.

Fiat Chrysler’s earnings before interest and taxes increased 88 percent to 1.3 billion euros ($1.5 billion) for the first quarter, up from 696 million euros ($785.1 million).

Fiat Chrysler’s earnings of 0.34 euros per share beat Wall Street expectations, which, on average, were for the company to earn 0.23 euros per share, according to estimates from Bloomberg.

The company’s North American operations more than doubled from a year ago to more than 1.2 billion euros ($1.4 billion), bringing its adjusted operating profit to 7.2 percent, the company said.

The doubling of margins on North American sales “was the key driver of the improvement in our performance,” said Fiat Chrysler CFO Richard Palmer on Tuesday.

The North American increases mostly were produced by higher net revenue, a decrease in advertising spending, purchasing savings and lower recall campaign costs, but were partially offset by higher manufacturing and other costs.

Marchionne called the company’s North American results “encouraging.”

Europe followed North America with 96 million euros ($108.3 million). Other operations included components earning 86 million euros ($97.1 million); Asia-Pacific reporting earnings of 12 million euros ($13.5 million), down from 65 million euros in 2015; Latin America at 11 million euros ($12.4 million), up from a loss of 65 million euros a year ago; and its luxury Maserati brand at 16 million euros ($18.1 million), down from 36 million euros.

Global shipments through March were in line with 2015 at 1.09 million vehicles.

Net revenue increased 3 percent compared to a year ago to nearly 26.6 billion euros ($30 billion).

The company’s first-quarter results are based on recalculated earnings from the first quarter of 2015 to exclude Ferrari NV, which officially spun off from Fiat Chrysler in January.

The automaker’s shares on the New York Stock Exchange closed Tuesday at $8.04 per share, down 1.71 percent.

In a note to investors Tuesday, Bank of America Merrill Lynch research analyst John Murphy highlighted the fact that Fiat Chrysler trails its crosstown rivals: “Our neutral rating on FCA is predicated on our view that FCA is making significant progress in its turnaround, but remains behind peers, namely Ford and GM, on key metrics, including product portfolio, rationalized platforms and cost base, and balance sheet strength,” Murphy wrote.

General Motors Co. last week reported a first-quarter net income of $1.95 billion — more than double from a year ago and strongly exceeding Wall Street expectations.

Ford Motor Co. is scheduled to release its first quarter earnings on Thursday.

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