GM’s Record Profits Don’t Impress Wall Street

“The bears argue the industry in the U.S. has peaked and is ready to roll over," says GM's CFO Chuck Stevens. "We don't subscribe to that view."
Matthew HellerFebruary 4, 2016
GM’s Record Profits Don’t Impress Wall Street

General Motors posted record profits of $6.3 billion for the fourth quarter and $9.7 billion for 2015 but its stock continued to slide amid concerns that it may be heading toward a cyclical downturn.

The latest quarter included a $3.9 billion noncash gain reflecting improved results in Europe, as accounting rules allowed GM to carry forward previous losses to offset future taxes in some countries. The automaker’s full-year profit more than tripled from $2.8 billion a year earlier.

But Detroit has not been able to shake off Wall Street bears who fear U.S. auto sales will peak this year. GM shares fell as much as 5% after the earnings announcement Wednesday before closing at $28.92, down 2.5% for the day and almost 13% for the year.

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As the Wall Street Journal reports, the auto industry tends to be cyclical and the financial crisis drove GM and others to seek protection from creditors in 2009.

“We believe investors should pay closer attention to deteriorating [transaction price] trends, which we expect to accelerate,” Joseph Amaturo, a Buckingham Research Group analyst, wrote in a note.

GM’s fourth-quarter revenue was flat compared with a year ago at $39.6 billion. “There are red flags on GM’s home turf, where gasoline prices falling below $2 a gallon, low interest rates. and employment gains fueled record auto sales in 2015,” the WSJ said.

GM executives contend Wall Street is ignoring fundamental improvements in the U.S. economy and auto industry and that U.S. car sales have plateaued, rather than peaked.

“The bears argue the industry in the U.S. has peaked and is ready to roll over. We don’t subscribe to that view,” CFO Chuck Stevens said in an earnings call. “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.”

GM cut losses in Europe in 2015 to $813 million from $1.4 billion in 2014. It plans to break even in Europe this year for the first time in years.