Surging demand in its home market helped General Motors deliver a strong third-quarter profit, offsetting the impact of weakening sales in China.
The largest of the Detroit automakers said Wednesday morning that it earned $1.4 billion in net income, or $0.84 a share. That compared with $1.4 billion, or $0.81 a share a year ago. On an EBIT, or earnings before interest and tax, basis GM had an adjusted profit of $3.1 billion, and an adjusted profit margin of 8.0% percent.
The strong numbers could generate new interest on Wall Street, at least GM officials are hoping. The maker’s stock has languished in recent months, around the same price set during its November 2010 IPO. But there could be a downside. The strong third quarter could motivate bargainers for the United Auto Workers Union who are trying to hammer out a new four-year contract with GM.
“These results reflect our work to capitalize on our strengths in the U.S. and China, while taking decisive, proactive steps to mitigate challenges elsewhere,” GM CEO Mary Barra said in a statement issued Wednesday morning.
“GM is a vastly different company today than just five years ago,” she added. “We’re building a strong foundation, driving earnings growth in our core business and executing a plan to lead the future of personal mobility, all with the aim of creating shareholder value for years to come.”
Adjusted for special, one-time charges, GM earned $1.50 a share, a 55% increase from the third quarter of 2014. And it handily beat the $1.19 per share estimate of a consensus of 15 Wall Street analysts.
Among the charges GM took for the quarter, it wrote off $575 million of the $900 million it agreed to pay to settle a criminal investigation by the U.S. Justice Department into the handling of a botched ignition switch recall.
The Detroit maker previously wrote down other costs connected with the scandal, among other things the money paid out by a victims’ compensation fund that determined at least 124 people were killed as a result of that defect.
(GM hit by new ignition switch, airbag recalls. Click Here for more.)
While earnings were up, GM actually reported a slight, 1% decline in revenues for the quarter which fell to $38.8 billion. It faced problems in several regions, including Latin America and China. The Chinese automotive market, the world’s biggest, has been entering a rare slump, sales by GM and its joint ventures in September declining 3.9% year-over-year to 295,236 vehicles.
(For more on GM’s China slide, Click Here.)
GM was still in the black in China, with a $269 million profit before taxes, up from $259 million during the third quarter of 2014.
GM also was hurt by the economic turmoil in Russia where it has decided to all but pull out of the market.
The saving grace was the U.S. market, where demand has been booming, especially for SUVs and pickups, some of GM’s highest-profit product lines.
Pre-tax earnings in North America hit a record $3.3 billion, up by roughly a third from the $2.5 billion earned a year earlier. For the quarter, the region delivered an 11.6% profit margin. GM has set a goal of achieving a 10% margin in North America for the full year.
And the maker continued to see things improve in Europe, where it hasn’t delivered a profit since the end of the last millennium. The latest quarterly loss came in at $231 million, but that was down from a year-ago $387 million deficit. GM is holding to its latest turnaround plan, expecting to break even in Europe next year.
Losses grew in Latin America, where key markets including Brazil and Argentina are facing major financial turmoil. GM lost $217 million in the region, a nearly seven-fold jump from the $32 million it lost during the third quarter of 2014.
The strong North American profit could prove a challenge, said several sources, asking not to be identified while GM is in the midst of union negotiations. Officially, the maker’s contract with the United Auto Workers Union expired on September 14, but the UAW has extended that agreement while it completes negotiations with cross-town rival Fiat Chrysler.
A first contract with FCA was widely rejected by the rank-and-file and that automaker narrowly averted a subsequent walkout by offering workers a second, more lucrative settlement. A new vote is just getting underway.
If workers give their approval, the UAW will then have to decide whether to turn next to Ford or GM. Either way, the FCA talks suggest that those two makers will also have to spend more on labor over the next four years than they may originally have expected.
(UAW leaders want to make sure 2nd FCA contract passes. Click Here for more.)