GM reports record $9.7 billion earnings in 2015

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News
This May 16, 2014, file photo, shows the General Motors logo at the company's world headquarters in Detroit.

Record auto sales and a strong performance in North America last year mean about 49,600 union workers at General Motors Co. will pocket up to $11,000 in profit sharing when checks are cut on Feb. 26.

GM will pay out the most of Detroit’s three automakers after posting the group’s largest North American profit of $11 billion. UAW-Ford workers will get up to $9,300, while UAW-FCA members will get up to $4,000.

The North American number is part of the record $9.7 billion the Detroit automaker earned in 2015, which includes a record $10.8 billion pre-tax profit that produced margins of 7.1 percent. And GM executives said they expect even better results for 2016.

“It was an outstanding performance across the board,” said Chuck Stevens, GM’s chief financial officer.

The strong numbers were driven almost entirely by North America, where GM earned a record adjusted profit margin of 10.3 percent. It reached the milestone 10 percent margin a year ahead of schedule.

GM’s adjusted earnings per share last year were $5.02 a share, beating the consensus of $4.83. Its earnings per share in the fourth quarter were $1.39 a share, beating the consensus of $1.21 per share.

Despite the record profits, GM’s stock fell sharply in early trading and closed down 2.5 percent, at $28.92 per share.

The automaker gained $1.5 billion from special items last year on a $3.9 billion net gain from the reversal of certain valuation allowances on deferred tax assets. It lost $1.4 billion last year to charges for litigation related to the ignition switch recall, and lost $600 million on the Venezuelan bolivar currency devaluation.

“It was a strong year on many fronts, capped with record sales and earnings, and a substantial return of capital to our shareholders,” GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra said in a statement. “We continue to strengthen our core business, which is laying the foundation for the company to lead in the transformation of personal mobility. We believe the opportunities this will create in connectivity, autonomous, car-sharing and electrification will set the stage for driving value for our owners for years to come.”

In Europe, GM lost $800 million, better than the $1.4 billion it lost there a year ago. Its fourth-quarter loss of $300 million was attributed to the launch of the Astra and a troubled Russian market that GM is leaving.

Stevens said GM is focused on reaching break-even in Europe in 2016. “All the fundamental building blocks are in place,” he said.

Its international operations reported adjusted earnings of $1.4 billion, up from $1.2 billion a year ago.

GM’s faltering South America business unit lost $600 million in 2015, a greater loss than the $200 million from 2014. But the automaker was encouraged by break-even results there in the fourth quarter. Stevens said GM has reduced its work force there by 20 percent and will continue to “take whatever actions are necessary.”

Stevens said GM doesn’t foresee any additional “significant restructuring” in its emerging markets this year.

GM’s total net revenue for the year was $152.4 billion, down from $155.9 billion a year ago. GM said the numbers are a result of a negative net foreign currency exchange of $9.3 billion.

The automaker predicts its adjusted earnings per share in 2016 will fall between $5.25 and $5.75 in 2016.

Barra said a mix of low fuel prices, available credit and other favorable market factors mean the auto industry isn’t headed for an immediate downturn.

“We believe the industry fundamentals support a continued strong U.S. industry.”

Some analysts expect GM’s momentum to continue.

“We remain bullish on GM,” David Kudla, CEO and chief investment strategist of Mainstay Capital Management in Grand Blanc, said in a statement. “We expect the company to take full advantage of continued robust demand, successful product launches and low energy costs this year.”

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles last week reported a profit of 377 million euros (about $410 million) for 2015, a substantial decrease from 632 million euros from the previous year attributed to recall and investment costs. Ford Motor Co. last week said it earned $7.4 billion in 2015, including $1.9 billion in the fourth quarter, and a pre-tax profit of $10.8 billion.

During its earnings call, FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne said the automaker would end production of its Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200 as it shifts its focus away from small cars. He said FCA could potentially partner with other automakers to continue selling cars.

Ford CEO Mark Fields said the automaker has no plans to discontinue its cars, but said it’s also open to working with partners. GM’s Stevens said he wouldn’t discount the possibility of partnerships in the future, but said he believes GM’s car strategy is different than FCA’s.

“We’ve got a path forward,” he said.

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