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Apr 26, 2022

GM raises outlook, tops profit views with chip shortage easing

John O'Connell discusses General Motors

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General Motors Co. beat analysts’ estimates for first-quarter profit and reaffirmed its guidance for the year, signaling a debilitating shortage of semiconductors is starting to fade.

GM reported profit of US$2.09 a share, excluding some items, compared with the US$1.68 a share average of analysts’ estimates. The company said better access to computer chips bolstered sales volumes while tight inventories across the industry boosted prices on crossovers and pickups. 

“There’s still volatility in chips,” Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra said on a media call, noting an improvement in semiconductor availability compared to late 2021. “We’ll see stronger chip supply in the second half of the year. We still believe that we’ll be able to make 25-30 per cent more vehicles this year than last year.”

GM confirmed its profit outlook of US$13 billion to US$15 billion in adjusted earnings for 2022, as projected in February. It lifted that slightly on a per-share basis -- to US$6.50 to US$7.50 a share from US$6.25 to US$7.25 a share previously -- but only because of tax benefits from an accounting change related to its increased stake in self-driving car unit Cruise. That compares with US$14.3 billion in adjusted earnings last year and US$7.07 a share. 

“With strong demand for our vehicles, including our dramatically redesigned Chevrolet and GMC light-duty pickups launching now, our cost discipline and the progress of our growth plan, we are reaffirming our financial guidance for the calendar year,” Barra said in a letter to shareholders. 

GM shares were little changed in extended market trading after the results were announced. The stock is down 35 per cent so far this year. 


EV PIVOT

The results come as GM begins to rapidly pivot toward a future dominated by battery-powered vehicles. The company expects to have six new EVs off its Ultium battery platform for sale by the end of next year. Crucial to that are what Barra called “affordable EVs” such as the upcoming all-electric small Chevy Blazer SS SUV and US$30,000 Chevy Equinox crossover EV, both of which are due around mid-2023. Another part of that plan: Rebooting sales of the Chevy Bolt EV after a production halt last year stemming from a battery-fire risk recall.

GM plans to plan to crank out more than 50,000 Bolts this year for global markets, including a record 40,000 deliveries in the U.S. By 2025, it projects making 2 million electric vehicles a year, hitting the milestone a year ahead of rival Ford Motor Co. In her letter to shareholders, Barra said GM will produce 400,000 EVs over the course of 2022 and 2023 alone.

The Detroit-based carmaker, which lost its crown as the top-seller in its home market in late 2021, saw its global market share contract to 9.1 per cent in the most recent quarter, down by almost a full percentage point from a year ago. That reflects difficulty meeting demand as production was crimped by short supplies of semiconductors and other critical parts.

GM reported US$2.94 billion in net income for the quarter, down 2.7 per cent from a year ago. Earnings before interest and taxes fell 8.5 per cent to US$4.04 billion due to mark-to-market accounting of the value of equity stakes in rival Stellantis NV and other corporate items. Without that accounting loss, GM would have kept profit stable despite a US$2.5 billion increase in commodities costs -- a sign of significant expense cuts that Barra highlighted in her shareholder letter. 


HIGHER INVENTORIES

Operating profit in GM’s biggest region, North America, was flat at US$3.14 billion, while revenue rose 13 per cent to US$29.5 billion. GM said dealer inventories increased to 274,000 vehicles, the highest levels in a year.

Profit in China, the world’s largest auto market, totaled US$234 million in the quarter, down from US$308 million a year ago and well off pre-pandemic levels for the business, when the automaker made as much as US$500 million a quarter. Barra said coronavirus-related lockdowns have kept Chinese consumers from buying cars, but expressed optimism in a rebound.

“Once we get past the lockdowns we have a very good plan to execute in China,” she told reporters. “I definitely think we have opportunity to rebuild to pre-pandemic targets.