General Motors boosts outlook for 2017

General Motors is raising its earnings outlook for 2017, and says its 2016 earnings will be at the higher end of its forecast.
General Motors chairman and CEO Mary Barra speaks about the financial outlook of the automaker on Tuesday in Detroit. The company issued an optimistic earnings forecast this year based on improved cost efficiencies and continued strong sales in North America and China. (Paul Sancya/Associated Press)

No. 1 U.S. automaker General Motors Co on Tuesday gave an upbeat profit outlook for 2017 that was significantly above Wall Street forecasts, countering analysts' concerns that the U.S. car industry peaked in 2016 after several years of record or near-record sales, sending its shares up more than five per cent.

GM said it expects its earnings for 2016 at the high end of its previous forecast and that profits will rise 2017.

"We see from a (U.S.) macroeconomic point of view pretty robust underpinnings for another good year absent some external shock to the system," GM president Dan Ammann told reporters at a press conference.

GM shares were up 5.3 per cent at $37.90 US in afternoon trading, near their highest level in almost two years.

The Detroit-based automaker said it expects 2017 earnings per share in a range of $6 to $6.50. Analysts have, on average, predicted the company post EPS this year of $5.76, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

GM said it expects full-year 2016 EPS at the high end of its previously announced range of $5.50 to $6. Analysts currently expect 2016 EPS of $6.01, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

In September, rival U.S. automaker Ford Motor Co lowered its 2016 pre-tax profit forecast, blaming a charge related to a vehicle recall. Ford has been trading at 6.29 times earnings, above GM, which has been trading at 4.12 times earnings.

Ford shares rose nearly three per cent after GM's profit outlook announcement.

More profitable sales mix

Over the next three years, GM said that more profitable crossovers, trucks and SUVs that have dominated sales for several years due to lower gas prices, will "increase significantly" to 52 per cent of GM sales volumes from 2017 to 2020, versus 38 percent over the previous six years.

The company also announced a $5-billion increase to its share buyback program and additional planned cost savings of $1 billion. The increase in GM's 2017 EPS will in part reflect the impact of the increased share repurchase program.

GM executives said, by 2019 the company expects $2 billion in pre-tax profits from its financial arm, its parts business and its new mobility ventures including OnStar and Maven.

The company said it should generate about $6 billion in free cash flow in 2017.

The automaker's bullish forecast comes at a time when the industry has been emphasizing investments in the United States following attacks from President-elect Donald Trump for building vehicles in Mexico.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced on Sunday it would spend $1 billion to retool factories in Ohio and Michigan to build new Jeep sport utility vehicles, as well as a pickup truck, and potentially move production of a Ram heavy-duty pickup truck to Michigan from Mexico.

Last week, Ford scrapped plans to build the $1.6-billion Focus plant in Mexico and said it would invest $700 million in a factory in Michigan.

When asked about the company's plans for investments in Mexico, GM CEO Mary Barra said she could not comment, but emphasized a willingness to cooperate with the incoming Trump administration.

"We think there's many things we can do  working with the administration that are going to make America great again that will strengthen business, that will strengthen growth, which will strengthen jobs," Barra said.

"Make America Great Again" was Trump's slogan during the 2016 U.S. general election campaign.