FCA earns $1.4B on 2Q global profits

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV said Thursday its net profit nearly tripled from a year ago to a record 1.2 million euros ($1.4 billion) on strong results in its international regionsas well as from Maserati and its components business. The gains came on flat revenue.

“It was a strong quarter,” Chief Financial Officer Richard Palmer said in a call with analysts and investors. “With the progress we’ve made in the first half of the year, we are confirming our full-year guidance.”

CEO Sergio Marchionne said the story of spin-offs from FCA is not over. FCA spun-off Ferrari in early 2016.

“One of the things that we need to come to grips with is whether all the activities currently within the FCA world are required to run a proper OEM,” he told investors and analysts in a conference call. “And if the answer is not, then I mean we have an obligation to purify that portfolio if they're viable enough and large enough and sufficiently capable of carrying on their activities is to give them the space and the sun on their own merits.”

Marchionne said the company is on track to meet financial goals it has laid out to reach by 2018, that the company is grooming successors and it will lay out new product and financial targets for the company through 2022 at an investors day in the first half of next year.

Shares of the stock were trading down slightly in early trading Thursday.

Fiat Chrysler’s results came as General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. earlier in the week also posted strong operating results and profit margins, even as U.S. sales have slipped. Driving their gains are strong sales of pickups and SUVs of all sizes.

The Italian-American automaker said its profit margin reached a record 6.7 percent in the quarter, up nearly 1 percentage point, as all segments and regions saw gains. Its North American margin hit a record 8.4 percent, up 0.5 percentage points from a year ago. FCA credited a favorable mix of selling vehicles, even as its number of vehicles shipped decreased from a year ago as it transitions its Jeep brand.

FCA’s adjusted pre-tax earnings of 1.9 billion euros ($2.22 billion) rose 15 percent from a year ago and were a record for the quarter, largely driven by the luxury brand Maserati’s performance and global sales growth. Its earnings per share of 74 cent euros (87 cents) beat many analyst estimates. Analysts were expecting earnings per share of 52 cent euro (60 cents). A year ago, FCA earned 321 million euros ($352.8 million) in the three-month period on revenue of 27.89 billion euros.

The automaker also reduced its net industrial debt by 900 million euros ($1.05 billion) from the first quarter of the year, a key metric in Marchionne’s push to strengthen FCA’s balance sheet.

In North America, revenue fell by about 8 percent to 16.08 billion euros ($18.8 billion) on 90,000 fewer vehicle shipments from the same three months a year ago. Profitability for the region was aided with lower costs, reduced fleet sales and stronger mix of more profitable vehicles.

Fiat Chrysler has been dinged by slowing U.S. sales, part of a general slowing that is hitting car segments most directly. The company no longer is building the small Dodge Dart or Chrysler 200 cars in the U.S. as it shifts to building just SUVs and trucks in the United States.

The automaker’s U.S. sales have fallen 6.7 percent year-over-year through the first half of 2017. Jeep brand sales are down 12.7 percent from a year ago, largely due to a changeover in products and as it has moved from an old Compass and Patriot to a redesigned Compass.

Marchionne confirmed Thursday that the redesigned Ram pickup will be shown in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Part of the investors day discussion next year will focus on a change in view in electrification. Marchionne announced that after 2019, Maserati vehicles that launch will have an electric component.

“We have been reluctant to embrace that avenue until we saw clearer a path forward,” he said.

Marchionne plans to step down as CEO in early 2019, and he confirmed the company is grooming a number of in-house successor candidates. He said the management structure may have to be changed for his successor to run the company.

He wouldn’t divulge any names, but said FCA has a group of people who are willing “and in some cases capable” of taking over when he leaves. Marchionne said he plans to have “zero” role in FCA once he steps down in about a year and a half.

During the second quarter, the Justice Department filed a civil complaint against FCA over allegations of emissions cheating on more than 100,000 diesel Ram 1500 pickups and Jeep Grand Cherokees. The company had hoped to avoid a lawsuit by offering modifications on the sold diesel versions; new vehicles will have “updated emissions software calibrations.”

Marchionne has been adamant his company did not cheat on emissions. The automaker earlier this month resumed building diesel Ram pickups as it prepares for a verdict from the federal Environmental Protection Agency in hopes it can sell them, Bloomberg reported.

On Thursday, Marchionne said he is confident that the company will find a resolution with the government. “I’m relatively comfortable that we can get the U.S. position rectified in relatively short order,” he said.

On Wednesday, former Fiat Chrysler executive Alphons Iacboelli, a top labor negotiator, was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges as part of a multiyear conspiracy to give money and goods worth more than $1.2 million to officers and employees of the United Auto Workers.

Marchionne did not address the issue in a call with analysts, but in a letter to employees Thursday, he expressed “disgust” with the actions and breach of trust. He said the conduct “had nothing whatsoever to do with the collective bargaining process, but rather involved two bad actors who apparently saw an opportunity to misappropriate funds entrusted to their control and who, unfortunately, co-opted other individuals to carry out or conceal their activities over a period of several years.”


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