GM's 2012 Performance Slips Amid European Woes and Lower Market Share


General Motors' (GM) earnings and market share were down in 2012 despite a better year for car sales in the U.S., a combination that soured Wall Street on the automaker's fourth quarter and year-end earnings report.

GM reported $4.7 billion in earnings for 2012, a sharp decline of 36 percent from the $7.6 billion it posted a year ago. The automaker's finances are on solid ground after its 2009 tax-payer assisted bankruptcy, but it underperformed a bit in the U.S., struggled in Europe amidst recession across the Atlantic and had a few special-item charges, all of which disappointed Wall Street.

General Motors
General Motors

Despite a 89 percent increase in fourth quarter earnings to $900 million, analysts and investors were especially disappointed with GM's performance in the final reporting period. They had forecast earnings of 51 cents a share, while the automaker's earnings came in at 48 cents a share. GM shares were down in down in pre-market trading and are expected to close lower today. GM's revenue was up slightly to $152.3 billion.

"We recorded another solid year in 2012 as we grew the business, delivered a third straight year of profitability and took significant actions to put the company on a solid path for future growth," said Dan Akerson, chairman and CEO. "This year our priorities will be executing flawless new vehicle launches, controlling costs and delivering more vehicles to our customers at outstanding value."

GM announced that it will issue profit-sharing checks of up to $6,750 to its 49,000 hourly U.S. workers. The payments, which are based on the company's performance in North America, are about $250 less than the GM's previous profit sharing checks.

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Operating profit, a key indicator of how GM is doing, improved 14 percent to $1.25 billion for the fourth quarter and fell 5 percent to $7.9 billion for the full year.

The automaker's pre-tax loss in Europe grew by 24 percent from a year earlier to $699 billion. The loss equaled 12.5 percent of GM Europe's sales for the quarter, worse than 9 percent a year earlier. Its yearly loss in Europe more than doubled to $1.8 billion.

Worrisome to GM is its falling market share. GM's U.S. share fell from 19.2 percent in 2011 to 17.5 percent in 2012. It slipped from 18 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011 to 17.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012. Globally, GM gave up world sales leadership back to Toyota.

So what is ahead for GM in 2013? It has an important launch of an all-new Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pick-up trucks. With construction in the U.S. improving, that is a big opportunity for GM to earn big money with an all-new truck. The redesigned Chevrolet Impala will be released this quarter, the Buick Encore compact crossover recently hit the market and a redesigned Cadillac CTS will be released in the fall. The company is also amidst an emergency design fix of the Chevy Malibu mid-sized sedan, a car that critics have skewered for shortcomings while Ford, Honda and Nissan have all received laurels for the redesigns of their sedans this year.

GM management has been anxious for the government to sell off its stake in GM that resulted from the tax-payer bailout in 2009. President Obama has indicated that the Treasury will begin selling off its stake, with the likelihood to be out of GM by early 2014.

Barclays analyst Brian Johnson says that 2013 will be a challenging year for GM, but that "a sweet spot" may exist for GM in 2014 when it is free of government ownership and several important new products are new.

GM shares were trading flat after the open between $28 and $29 a share, well above its 52-week low of $18.72, but shy of its 52-week high of $30.68.

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