General Motors reported fourth-quarter earnings of $913 million, up 2% from a year ago.
Analysts had much higher expectations for the quarter, and GM shares were slapped down in morning trading before rebounding to close nearly flat -- down 1 cent at $35.23.
The earnings amounted to 57 cents a share -- 67 cents before special charges. Analysts' consensus had been 87 or 88 cents.
"We're not where we want to be," new CEO Mary Barra said in a conference call on the results. But, she noted, "We're riding a wave of new products" that will bolster GM this year and beyond.
Revenue in the quarter rose slightly, to $40.5 billion, from $39.3 billion a year ago. Net income for the year was at $3.8 billion, down 22%, primarily on taxes and one-time items.
Ryan Brinkman, analyst at JPMorgan, had forecast 88 cents. He told clients in a note that the shortfall was mainly because North American operations, while improving, weren't as good as expected. He said much better numbers could come as soon as the second quarter this year.
Joseph Spak, at RBC Capital Markets, had forecast 80 cents. He called the GM results "a bit messy and disappointing." He agreed with Brinkman that the second quarter will be "a make-or-break quarter for the stock."
Earnings before interest, taxes and one-time items, which GM says is the best measure of its performance, were $1.9 billion, up from $1.2 billion a year earlier.
Full-year North American pretax earnings were a record $7.5 billion. GM forecast restructuring costs of $1.1 billion this year.
In the call, Wall Street analysts questioned why the redesigned 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups didn't sell better, and wondered if that would lead to big incentives.
Barra said, "We will look and make sure we're competitive" on pricing. But, she noted, "We will still maintain our pricing discipline."
Jesse Toprak, chief analyst at Cars.com, said that, when it's all stewed together, "We predict that 2014 will be a year of steady growth for GM with continued expansion in China, recovery in Europe and modest gains in North America."