Chrysler: First profit in 5 years

By Chris Isidore, senior writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Chrysler Group on Monday reported its first quarterly profit since 2006, marking an important milestone in the turnaround in the U.S. auto industry.

The company, which went through a federal bailout and bankruptcy in 2009, earned $116 million in the first quarter, compared to a net loss of $197 million a year ago.

The last time Chrysler reported a profit was in the second quarter of 2006, when it was a unit of DaimlerChrysler.

Revenue soared 35% to $13.1 billion, as both sales volume and pricing improved. The company sold 18% more vehicles worldwide.

Chrysler is still privately held. The U.S. government owns nearly 9%, Italian automaker Fiat owns a controlling 30% stake, and a United Auto Workers trust fund owns the majority. The company plans to again offer shares to the public later this year or early next year, with Fiat expecting to own 51% of the company by the end of this year.

The company also announced plans last week to repay $5.8 billion in loans to the U.S. Treasury Department and another $1.7 billion to the Canadian government, which also participated in the 2009 bailout.

Chrysler will raise funds from banks and private investors to come up with money to repay those loans. But the profitable first quarter left it with $9.9 billion of cash on its books -- an increase of $2.5 billion from the end of 2010.

Rival Ford Motor (F, Fortune 500) has already reported its financial results, posting its biggest first quarter profit since 1998. General Motors (GM) is due to report on Thursday, with analysts forecasting improved profits there as well.

Chrysler officials said the quarterly results have them on target for a net income between $200 million and $500 million for the full year. But that target excludes a $500 million non-cash charge the company expects to take against second-quarter earnings, related to the payment of government bailout loans and refinancing.

Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of both Chrysler Group and Fiat, said the company expects that refinancing will save the company about $100 million in interest in the second half of this year.

Marchionne said the company is also on pace to reach its target of 1.4 million vehicle sales in the United States -- 2 million worldwide -- despite the rise in gas prices.

While Chrysler has a much heavier dependence on light truck models than its U.S. or import brand rivals, Marchionne said improved fuel economy in the company's new models will allow its average to improve by 25%, between 2010 and 2014.

"I know there are concerns about rising gas prices, but we have not stood still in terms of improving the fuel efficiency of our fleet," he said. To top of page

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