Cost-cutting and pricey pickups. That was the formula for General Motors as it managed to beat Wall Street’s earnings expectations for the first quarter of 2019 with adjusted earnings of $1.41 a share, 30 cents better than the consensus forecast.
But that wasn’t enough to satisfy investors who have been driving down GM shares in morning trading, the market appearing to react to weak sales and the automaker’s home market share decline from 16.9% during the fourth quarter of 2018 to 15.6% during the most recent three-month period.
“GM’s first-quarter operating results were in line with expectations we shared in January,” CEO and Chairman Mary Barra said during a conference call with analysts and the media Tuesday morning. “My confidence in the year ahead remains strong, driven by our all-new full-size truck launch and our ongoing business transformation.”
The first quarter saw motorists in the U.S. pay more than ever before for General Motors vehicles, a surge largely credited to higher prices for the recently redesigned Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickups. Those models generated an average price of about $5,800, or 20 percent, more than the trucks they replaced.
But overall North American sales of 775,000 vehicles – include 665,000 cars, trucks and crossovers in the U.S. – fell from 827,000 a year ago. It’s unclear why U.S. sales slipped, though GM has taken some heat from Pres. Donald Trump who has sharply criticized the automaker over plans to close five plants, including assembly lines in Ohio and Michigan. Those cuts are part of a broad cost-cutting campaign by CEO Barra that will see the company also eliminate eight slow-selling models, mostly sedans.
(GM rejects plan to keep Lordstown, OH plant open. Click Here for the details.)
The various cutbacks are expected to result in about 14,000 white and blue-collar job cuts in North America when completed, though GM has noted that several thousand workers affected by the plant closings will be moved to other plants, especially those selling the company’s hotter pickup and SUV models.
The cuts generated about $400 million in savings during the first quarter, according to Chief Financial Officer Dhivya Suryadevara, who forecast that will rise to as much as $2.5 billion for the full year.
GM’s sales downturn wasn’t limited to the U.S. In the Asia Pacific, Middle East and African regions, GM sales tumbled from 1.1 million to 947,000. China, in particular, took a sharp hit. The auto industry, in general, has been hard hit by a sales slowdown in what is now the world’s largest car market. But GM tumbled even more sharply than the industry overall, sales off by 18% for the January-March quarter. That drove first-quarter income from China down 37% from the year before, to $376 million.
GM’s worldwide revenues for the latest period tumbled 3.4% to $34.88 billion. Wall Street analysts had forecast revenues of $35.22 billion.
On the plus side, GM’s income, after taxes, jumped 93 percent, to $2.1 billion. But profit margins dipped by 0.6 points to 6.6 percent for the first quarter.
GM’s first-quarter earnings also showed a 31 cent bump based on the automaker’s holdings in ride-share service Lyft, which recently staged an IPO, as well as its stake in PSA Group. The French automaker last year completed its acquisition of GM’s former European operations.
The first quarter not only saw GM announce major cuts in its passenger car line-up – and the plants building those models – but also saw Barra commit to plans that will see it expand the automaker’s electric vehicle line-up. In March, the CEO announced plans to invest $300 million at the suburban Detroit plant currently building the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt EV to add at least one more battery-electric vehicle, part of a $1.8 billion U.S. investment plan.
(GM to build 2nd EV at Lake Orion plant. Click Here for more.)
During the Tuesday morning earnings call, meanwhile, Barra confirmed a report first run by TheDetroitBureau.com earlier this year, announcing that the automaker is developing an all-electric pickup truck.
GM is pushing heavily into the broad technological changes expected to transform the auto industry over the coming decades. That said, it is unclear how soon those investments will pay off. Its GM Cruise subsidiary, which is leading the automaker’s autonomous vehicle effort, lost $200 million during the first quarter. GM still plans to invest $1 billion in Cruise this year.
(GM adding 2nd shift at KY plant as it prepares to launch all-new C8 Corvette. Click Here for the story.)