GM posts $9.43B in net profits for '16

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

General Motors Co. said Tuesday its net income last year fell less than 3 percent to $9.43 billion due to a one-time gain it had in 2015. But with record profits in North America and strength in China, the company posted several yearly records including pre-tax adjusted earnings of $12.5 billion.

General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra.

The company also posted record earnings per share of $6 for the year, adjusted pre-tax margin of 7.5 percent, revenue of $166.4 billion and North American adjusted pre-tax earnings of $12 billion. The company’s revenue grew 9.2 percent vs. 2015 totals. The records are since GM emerged from bankruptcy in 2009 as a new company.

"By nearly every measure, 2016 was a great year," GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra told investors and analysts Tuesday on a conference call.

In 2015, the Detroit automaker made a record $9.7 billion in net income, $10.8 billion pre-tax and earnings per share reached $5.91.

The automaker also announced profit sharing of up to $12,000 for about 52,000 UAW workers. Payments are slated to arrive Feb. 24. Last year, UAW-GM members received $11,000.

GM, which had been working to turn a profit in Europe since the late 1990s, came up short of its effort, losing $257 pre-tax in the region for the year. The loss was better than in 2015 when the company lost $813 million pre-tax.

GM Chief Financial Officer Chuck Stevens said the company will push to break-even in Europe in 2018.

The automaker had said last year that the Brexit vote, or the United Kingdom’s June vote to leave the European Union, put that goal in jeopardy. GM had said Brexit could cost the company $400 million in the second half of 2016.

Stevens said Brexit cost GM $300 million in 2016 related to the weakening of the pound sterling.

He told reporters Tuesday in Detroit that the company likely will have a similar, $300 million Brexit impact this year and thus a flat performance in Europe in 2017.

GM’s Opel and Vauxhall brands in Europe sold 4 percent more vehicles last year to 1.16 million, the highest volume in five years. GM’s Opel unit said significantly lower sales volume in the United Kingdom after the Brexit vote kept the brand from growing market share.

The company’s profit center again was North America, where pre-tax adjusted profit grew from $11 billion in 2015.

In the U.S. last year, GM sold 3.04 million vehicles, down 1.3 percent from 2015. GM, which is focusing on growing sales to retail customers and is reducing sales to less profitable rental customers, said its retail sales in the U.S. last year were up nearly 2 percent. It gained 0.5 percentage points of U.S. retail market share in 2016.

While overall U.S. sales are down, GM is selling its vehicles at higher prices. The company’s average transaction price in 2016 totaled nearly $35,400, more than $4,200 above the industry average and up more than $700 from GM’s 2015 figure, Barra said.

The company also narrowed its loss in South America last year to $374 million pre-tax, better than $622 million it lost in 2015.

GM Financial, the company’s finance arm, earned $913 million pre-tax last year, up from $837 million in 2015. The company’s International Operations posted a pre-tax profit of $1.14 billion in 2016, down slightly from the $1.4 billion it earned in 2015.

GM said it sold a record 10 million vehicles globally last year, up 1.2 percent from 2015.

The company and its joint ventures also sold a record 3.87 million vehicles in China last year, GM’s largest sales market. Sales there rose 7.1 percent last year.

The automaker said its income with China joint ventures totaled $525 million pre-tax in the fourth quarter, down from $575 million pre-tax in the same three months in 2015. For the year, GM made $2 billion in equity income in China, flat with earnings a year ago.

For the fourth quarter, GM beat analysts’ expectations with earnings of $1.84 billion or $1.19 a share. When factoring for special charges, earnings per share totaled $1.28. Analysts had estimated the company earnings per share at $1.17.

Earnings, however, fell sharply in the fourth quarter compared to the same quarter in 2015. GM in the 2015 fourth quarter had a $3.9 billion one-time gain related to tax assets in its European operations.

“Solid fourth-quarter results really capped a great year for General Motors,” Stevens said.

GM on Tuesday also reiterated its earnings outlook for 2017, previously shared in January. Barra said GM expects 2017 adjusted earnings to be higher than 2016 given continued strong performance in North America, aided by several SUV launches, and continued strength in China. GM said 2017 earnings would be helped with growth from GM Financial; from improving South American business; and corporate cost cutting. The company is predicting higher revenue and adjusted earnings per share to range from $6 to $6.50.

The automaker’s stock was trading down about 5 percent about 1:30 p.m.

GM was the last of the Detroit Three to report earnings. Ford Motor Co. last month reported $4.6 billion in net income for 2016 and adjusted pre-tax income of $10.4 billion, while Fiat Chrysler Automobiles reported $1.9 billion in net income.