DETROIT (AP) — General Motors earned $6.3 billion in the fourth-quarter, helped by a large tax benefit tied to revalued assets in certain European countries.
That was more than five times the $1.1 billion net income the company reported in 2014’s fourth quarter.
On a per share basis, GM made $1.39 for the fourth-quarter, easily beating the $1.21 per share consensus estimate of 15 analysts.
But it didn’t impress investors, many of whom are convinced that auto sales in GM’s most profitable region, North America, are at or near a peak.
GM shares, which are down 15 percent so far this year, dropped another 3.8 percent to $28.51 Wednesday morning.
Last month GM raised its estimate for 2016 earnings to between $5.25 and $5.75 per share, increased its quarterly dividend from 36 cents to 38 cents and told investors it would expand a stock repurchase program from $5 billion to $9 billion through the end of 2017.
All of which has generated a “so what” response from financial markets. While China remains a profitable center for GM, there are concerns that the economy in the world’s largest car market is slowing more than government data indicates.
“We don’t subscribe to that view,” said Chuck Stevens, GM chief financial officer. “We believe that the industry fundamentals and the economic fundamentals are such that we would expect to see a strong U.S. industry for the next number of years.”
During a conference call with analysts, CEO Mary Barra reiterated Stevens’ comments and added, “We understand we are in a cyclical business and it’s very difficult for anyone to predict a downturn … but we will maximize earnings through the cycle.”
For all of 2015 GM posted net income of $9.7 billion, a record since its 2009 bankruptcy restructuring.
Once again the bulk of the profits — $2.8 billion in the fourth quarter and $11 billion for the year — were earned in North America. European operations lost $298 million in the fourth quarter, but are expected to break even in the region this year.
As a result of expected profits in Europe in the near future, GM took a $3.2 billion accounting credit for tax benefits it gained during about two decades of losses in that region.
The automaker lost $47 million in South America, while its international operations, which include its joint ventures in China, made $408 million in the last three months of 2015.
Wall Street focuses on profit margins and GM’s goal is to earn 10 percent of its sales globally by the end of the decade. For the fourth quarter the company’s profit margin in North America was exactly 10 percent and 10.3 percent for all of 2016.