General Motors Corp. on Tuesday posted fourth-quarter earnings that were essentially flat compared with the same period a year ago, with high health-care and pension costs offsetting another strong showing from the company's credit business.
GM reported earnings of $1.01 billion, or $2.13 a share, compared with $1.02 billion, or $1.71, a year ago. Per-share earnings rose because GM has fewer shares circulating following last year's sale of its stake in El Segundo-based Hughes Electronics Corp. to News Corp.
Revenue for the quarter increased 7.7% to $49.1 billion.
The quarter's results were affected by several one-time factors, including a gain from the Hughes sale and the cost of implementing a new labor contract with the United Auto Workers union. Adjusting for those factors, GM earned $838 million, or $1.47 a share, down from an adjusted figure of $934 million, or $1.67, a year ago.
That profit, which beat many analysts' expectations, was driven largely by GMAC, the company's credit arm. GMAC posted record earnings of $630 million for the quarter, up from $524 million last year.
GM has begun easing its strategy of costly incentives and price discounts on new cars and trucks, which had kept sales high but reduced profit. GM's income from North American car and truck sales was down 38% during the fourth quarter compared with a year ago. For the full year, income from auto sales fell 62% compared with 2002.
GM posted net income of $3.8 billion, or $7.14 a share, for the full year, up from $1.7 billion, or $3.35, in 2002. Adjusted to reflect special factors such as the Hughes deal, net income totaled $3.2 billion, or $5.62 a share, compared with $3.9 billion, or $6.98. Revenue rose to $185.5 billion for the year from $177.3 billion.
GM lost more ground to overseas rivals in 2003, finishing the year with 28% of the North American market compared with 28.3% in 2002. But with a spate of new products on the way this year, Chief Executive Rick Wagoner said he was optimistic GM would reverse its decline.
GM shares eased 20 cents to $53.87 on the New York Stock Exchange.