DETROIT — General Motors on Tuesday posted better-than-expected quarterly results as cost-cutting and higher vehicle prices offset a double-digit decline in U.S. sales volume, and said it expected 2018 would be a strong year globally and in North America, sending its stock up more than 1 percent.
Thanks to cost-cutting and higher transaction prices for its more popular, and higher-margin, SUVs and pickup trucks in North America, the Detroit-based automaker's global pre-tax margin rose to 8.2 percent in the quarter versus 6.5 percent in the same quarter in 2016.
The company noted that results had improved across all segments and that its South American business had returned to profitability in the second half of 2017.
The solid performance from GM underscores the current struggles of cross-town rival Ford to boost its own profitability. Ford's fourth-quarter automotive operating margin fell to 3.7 percent, from 5.7 percent a year earlier.
GM's results came despite selling 135,000 fewer vehicles to dealers in North America in the fourth quarter and nearly 450,000 fewer in the full year than in 2016.
Speaking to reporters, Chief Financial Officer Chuck Stevens said that despite recent stock market volatility due to concerns that the U.S. economy may be overheating, the No. 1 U.S. automaker is "not overly concerned about inflation."
"Our forecast is premised on continued growth in the U.S. economy," Stevens said. He said GM expects interest rates to rise 75 basis points in 2018.
Stevens said that a 25 basis point increase in interest rates meant an increase of only $3 for the average car loan payment.
"As long as these are moderate (interest rate) increases, they are easily digestible," he said.
The automaker worked to reduce glut of unsold vehicles during 2017 with production halts, addressing a concern for analysts and observers alike.
GM also exited some markets in 2017, pulling out of India and parts of Africa, and selling its Opel/Vauxhall unit to France's PSA Group.
The automaker's results come as overall, U.S. auto industry new vehicle sales are in decline. Sales fell around 2 percent in 2017 after hitting an all-time record in 2016. Sales are expected to fall around another 2 percent in 2018.
GM reported a fourth-quarter loss of $4.9 billion or $3.46 per share, compared with a profit of $2.1 billion or $1.36 per share a year earlier. Excluding one-time items, GM posted earnings per share of $1.65. On that basis, analysts had expected earnings per share of $1.38.
The No. 1 U.S. automaker said it will record a $7.3 billion non-cash charge for its fourth-quarter 2017 earnings related to deferred tax assets that will lose their value because of the lower U.S. corporate tax rate.
Revenue for the quarter fell to $37.7 billion from $39.9 billion a year earlier. Analysts had expected $36.6 billion.
In pre-market trading, GM shares were up around 1 percent at $40.01.
Reporting by Nick Carey and Paul Lienert