Slaven Vlasic, Getty Images
General Motors CEO Mary Barra.

GM’s Record Results Fail to End Investors’ Peak Auto Unease

Oct. 25, 2016
Revenue jumped 10% in the third quarter to almost $43 billion, but analysts and investors alike are wondering whether this is as good as it gets.

General Motors Co. posted third-quarter profit and sales that set records and beat analysts’ estimates — and still underwhelmed investors who have a nagging feeling that the industry’s heydays are over.

Powered by demand for light trucks in the U.S. and luxury vehicles in China, net income more than doubled to $2.8 billion while revenue jumped 10% to $42.8 billion, GM said in a statement Tuesday. Adjusted earnings of $1.72 a share exceeded the $1.47 projected by analysts in a Bloomberg survey.

The results, strong enough for GM to predict full-year earnings near the top of its previously announced range, couldn’t overcome investors’ concerns that industrywide U.S. sales are about to plateau after a record six years of gains. With Brexit-related issues threatening GM’s plan to break even in Europe this year, investors pushed down the automaker’s shares 2.4% to $32.18 at 10:16 a.m. in New York.

“Investors must think this is as good as it gets and that it’s peak auto,” said David Whiston, a Morningstar Inc. analyst who has a buy rating on the stock. “It’s frustrating because GM doesn’t deserve to be down this much.”

Concern about a potential slowdown has hurt automakers’ shares this year, with declines for about 3% through Monday for GM and 13% for Ford Motor Co., compared with a 5.3% rise for the S&P 500 index. Ford, which reports Thursday, said last month that financial results will decline in 2017 as it boosts spending on new businesses such as driverless and electric cars while fixing weaknesses in luxury autos and emerging markets. GM said it now expects full-year adjusted earnings near the high end of its previously stated range of $5.50 to $6 a share.

Demand for high-margin sport utility vehicles in North America drove GM’s performance, along with Chinese buyers’ increased appetite for pricey models from the Cadillac and Buick brands. North American earnings before interest and taxes rose about $200 million to $3.5 billion, also the best ever for the period. One reason is the company’s strategy of increasing sales to individuals, which have higher margins than fleet deliveries.

In the U.S., GM has benefited from stable sales and better pricing on its cars, which have transaction prices $5,000 higher than the average competitor. That has pushed EBIT margins in its North American business to 11.2%, which is also the best-ever for the automaker. At Chevrolet, sales to retail customers rose 2% from the year-earlier quarter.

Europe and South America continue to be trouble spots, and Chief Financial Officer Chuck Stevens told reporters that Brexit has derailed GM’s push to make a profit in Europe business this year. Even so, GM was able to pare losses in Europe to $142 million in the quarter from $231 million a year earlier. South America lost $121 million, compared with $217 million a year ago.

The company had said in July that the U.K.’s plan to exit the European Union could cost it $400 million in this year’s second half, as an expected drop in demand hits its British Vauxhall brand. Currency fluctuations related to Brexit cost GM $100 million in the third quarter, meaning the remaining $300 million may come in the fourth quarter.

“The pound sterling has deteriorated further, which creates another headwind for us,” CFO Stevens said. “Breaking even this year is going to be very challenging.”

To counter the Brexit effects and try to reach its goal of breaking even this year in Europe, GM is looking at cost cuts and raised vehicle prices by 2.5 percent in the U.K. starting Oct. 1, Stevens said. “We will look across all aspects of the business and take whatever action isnecessary to get the business back on track,” he said.

Equity income from China, where its operations are run as joint ventures with local automakers, held steady at $459 million compared with $463 million in the same quarter last year. China vehicle sales rose 9% to a record 2.7 million so far this year, and profitable crossover SUVs like the Buick Envision and Cadillac XT5 are making gains. Cadillac sales jumped 79% in the region from the year-earlier quarter.

By David Welch

Popular Sponsored Recommendations

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of IndustryWeek, create an account today!