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GM loss much worse than expected
No. 1 automaker loses more than $1 billion despite rising sales in the third quarter.
October 17, 2005: 1:45 PM EDT

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - General Motors Corp. reported a huge third-quarter loss Monday, stung by soaring gasoline prices that hurt sales of big SUVs and rising health care and other costs.

The world's No. 1 automaker said its net loss was $1.6 billion, or $2.89 a share, including an $805 million charge for expected plant closings and other moves, versus net income of $315 million, or 56 cents a share, a year earlier.

Excluding the charge and other items, GM's loss was equal to $1.92 a share, more than twice as large as the 87 cent a share loss forecast by analysts surveyed by earnings tracker First Call.

"In a nutsell our financial performance continues to be quite disappointing," said GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner in comments broadcast to company employees Monday morning.

Still, investors lifted GM (Research) stock Monday as the poor results came the same day the company announced a deal with the United Auto Workers to cut health care costs. (Full story).

GM executives could give few details of the agreement with the union, other saying it should produce a $1 billion annual savings in what it spends on healthcare costs. It estimates healthcare will run the company $5.6 billion this year for active and retired workers and their families, although that number includes salaried staff not covered by the agreement.

The company also announced it is looking at selling a controlling stake in its most consistently profitable unit, GMAC. The finance arm of the company has been hit by GM's downgrade to junk bond status, and GM says it is looking for a strategic partner that can restore its investment grade status. But the move will sharply reduce GM's profits in the future.

GMAC posted net income of $675 million in the quarter, up from $620 million a year earlier, despite costs associated with Hurricane Katrina reducing profits at the unit by $161 million.

Soaring losses at home

Overall, the company's automotive operations lost $1.6 billion in the third quarter, with just about all of that coming from its core North American operations. A year earlier the autos produced a loss of $219 million, with North America responsible for only an $88 million loss.

Auto units overseas made about $51 million as a group in the most recent quarter, with Europe trimming losses while Asia-Pacific increased profits.

The automaker had very strong sales in July as it led the way on offering U.S. buyers a chance to buy cars and trucks at "employee pricing" levels. But U.S. sales fell sharply in August and September, as inventories of the 2005 models were depleted and rising gasoline prices put the brakes on the sales of large sports/utility vehicles and pickups that have become major profit drivers for the company.

"This really highlights one of the weaknesses of our business model is too much reliance on those products (large SUVs and pickups) for profit and not enough profitability from those other products," said Wagoner.

The company saw U.S. vehicle sales fall by seven percent, while they rose nearly 10 percent elsewhere in the world. Overall revenue rose by five percent to $47.2 billion in the period.

GM executives also said it was too soon to estimate the loss it may take from Delphi Corp.'s bankruptcy, saying it was still evaluating whether it will need to record liabilities related to Delphi's filing.

But it raised the upper end of the expected hit to $12 billion from its earlier estimate of $11 billion, due to the agreement with the UAW on healthcare. The Delphi costs will come from obligations to former GM employees now at Delphi, which was spun off from the automaker in 1999. Delphi, the former auto parts unit of GM, filed for Chapter 11 protection from creditors earlier this month in the biggest bankruptcy in the auto industry.

Even with the tentative agreement with the United Auto Workers, GM Chief Financial Officer said the company is not prepared to give a forecast on future quarter or annual results or a target on when it might return to profitability.

For more on the GM agreement with the UAW, click here.  Top of page

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