General Motors’ fleet of big pickups and SUVs helped the automaker overcome all obstacles for the first quarter of 2017, earnings rising 34% to handily top Wall Street’s expectations and set a new quarterly record.
With a net income of $2.6 billion, GM was the last of the three Detroit-based automakers to report 1Q earnings and one of two to outperform market forecasts. Only Ford, which was off by 35%, posted a year-over-year decline – though it also benefited from booming demand for high-profit light trucks.
“We are executing our plan and it’s delivering results,” Chief Financial Officer Chuck Stevens said during a Friday morning news conference at General Motors headquarters. “This sets us up for another strong year.”
(Ford profits tumble for 1Q. Click Here for more.)
GM showed solid results in virtually every category. On a per-share basis, it was it 33.5% to $1.70. Analysts polled by FactSet had been expecting something closer to $1.47 a share. Earnings before taxes came to $3.4 billion, a $1.1 billion jump. GM officials this week hailed the preliminary Trump Administration tax proposal that would have sharply boosted its net numbers.
Revenues urged 11% for the latest quarter, to $41.2 billion, also exceeding the consensus forecast of $40.6 billion. And GM reported margins of 8.2%. While not the best in the industry, that figure was still up 1.1 percentage points year-over-year.
The strong first-quarter results were all the more significant considering the softening of the U.S. automotive market – which is expected to post another dip when April numbers are reported next week. Nonetheless, GM reported that its North American pre-tax adjusted earnings rocketed 48.8%, to $3.4 billion on revenues of $29.3 billion.
(April sales likely dropped again. Click Here for a preview.)
That reflects the strong demand for SUVs, crossovers and light trucks which tend to cost more than comparable sedans, coupes and other passenger vehicles. Like rival Ford, GM also saw buyers opt for more heavily optioned vehicles, further driving up its average transaction prices.
The shift to light trucks – which now account for nearly two-thirds of the American new vehicle market – did result in a decline in demand for passenger cars like the Chevrolet Malibu. But Chevy, GM’s biggest brand, offset that with a 3.5% surge in truck sales and a 12% jump in utility vehicles. The GMC truck brand reported a nearly 10% year-over-year increase.
As strong as North America proved to be, GM remained well in the red on the other side of the Atlantic, its European operations posting another $200 million loss. The Opel/Vauxhall unit hasn’t turned a profit since 1999, the primary reason GM last month announced plans to sell it off to France’s PSA Group for about $2.2 billion.
In China, where GM vies for dominance with German rival Volkswagen, the automaker earned $504 million through its various joint ventures. That was down nearly 3 percent. Overall, International Operations turned in $319 million in pre-tax earnings, off from $379 million a year ago.
GM Financial, meanwhile, saw earnings climb to $260 million from $225 million a year ago.
“Our first-quarter results reflect our resolve to grow profitability and demonstrate the strong earnings power of this company,” GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra said in a statement revealing the first-quarter earnings.
The automaker is forecasting 2017 full-year adjusted earnings will run in a range between $6 to $6.50 per share. Analysts have been forecasting earnings of $5.95 for all of 2017. They may be forced to revise those numbers upwards in the wake of Friday’s strong showing by the largest U.S. automaker.
Ford on Thursday said it suffered a 35% decline in earnings, at $1.6 billion, or $0.40 a share. That still helped the second-largest domestic maker beat earnings expectations – as did Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which saw its adjusted earnings come in at 1.54 billion euros, or $1.68 billion.
GM has struggled to build momentum for its stock in recent months, but the strong first-quarter showing sent shares climbing by as much as 2% in premarket trading on Friday morning.
(FCA tops Wall Street forecasts. Click Here to find out how.)