General Motors on Wednesday reported third-quarter earnings of $1.48 billion, or 89 cents a share, as profits in North America more than offset the company's continuing losses in Europe.
The quarter's results were down about 15 percent from $1.7 billion, or $1.03 a share, a year ago, but they still blew past Wall Street expectations of 60 cents. Excluding special items, GM reported earnings per share of 93 cents.
Net revenue was up about 2 percent to $37.6 billion vs. $36.7 billion a year ago, driven by both volume and higher pricing. Through three quarters this year GM has increased both U.S. sales (up 3.5 percent year-over-year) and average transaction price (up 0.6 percent), according to Edmunds.com data.
GM posted a quarterly loss of $478 million in Europe, where new car sales are headed for a two-decade low. The loss in Europe a year ago was $292 million. GM Europe, primarily its German Opel operation, has not made money since 1999.
The car company now forecasts a total loss in Europe this year of $1.5 billion to $1.8 billion. But it said it sees 2013 being "slightly better" and sees breaking even in Europe "mid-decade."
The international operations unit -- which includes China, South Korea and Australia -- posted an operating profit up 89 percent to $689 million.
The South American unit returned to a profit of $114 million from a loss of $44 million a year ago as GM began rolling out a batch of new products.
CEO Dan Akerson said in a statement that GM is "seeing green shoots take hold on tough issues like complexity reduction, pensions and Europe."
Ford last week announced plans to close three plants there, as it said its losses in Europe this year will be $1.5 billion. GM outlined its plan to break even by mid-decade after the earnings announcements.
Both presidential candidates are likely to use GM's report to continue their debate over the administration's 2009 auto bailout and bankruptcy restructuring.
But the third quarter provided little for them to chew on, says Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds.com's senior analyst. "Anyone looking for political artillery in these numbers will likely be disappointed. General Motors' global performance is hardly out of line with any other automaker, whether it's the company's strength in the North American market, or its weakness in the European market."
Wall Street trading reopened Wednesday, and GM shares closed at $25.50, up $2.22, or 9.5 percent. That remains well off the November 2010 IPO price of $33 and below the about $53 needed for the government to break even on the 2009 bailout. The U.S. government still owns 32 percent of GM's common stock.
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