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GM annual profit soars, 4th quarter disappoints

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Things are looking up ... mostly. The General Motors headquarters January 10, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan.

Updated at 12:20 p.m. ET

General Motors posted flat fourth-quarter income Thursday but still managed to haul in $7.6 billion worth in profits last year, up 62 percent from the prior year.

It was the highest annual profit ever for the automaker, which emerged from bankruptcy protection in 2009 after a government-led bailout.

The U.S. government still owns 26.5 percent of the company and is waiting for the share price to rise before selling in an effort to recoup the bailout money. GM stock was up 6 percent at $26.43 in midday trading after the earnings announcement.

"We will build on these results as we bring more new cars, crossovers and trucks to market," CEO Daniel Akerson said in a statement.

Full-year revenue rose 11 percent to $105 billion.

North America led the way with a $7.2 billion pretax profit. But problems surfaced that could hurt future earnings. GM lost $700 million before taxes in Europe, and lost $100 million in South America.

"We obviously have work to do still and a long way to get to the objectives we ultimately want to get to," GM Chief Financial Officer Dan Ammann told reporters.

"We clearly have work to do in Europe. We have work to do in the South America business. Frankly, we have work to do all around the company in terms of cost opportunity," he added.

GM'S fourth-quarter profit was flat with 2010. GM earned $500 million, or 28 cents per share. Revenue rose 3 percent to $38 billion. Before one-time items, GM earned 40 cents per share. Analysts expected earnings of 42 cents on revenue of $37.9 billion.

Ammann said GM has not gone far enough in cutting costs in its European operations, but declined to provide a 2012 financial forecast for a unit that the No. 1 U.S. automaker has struggled to return to profitability. Overall, GM expects 2012 sales to top the $150.3 billion it saw in 2011 and its market share to remain flat.

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Last year, GM made the bulk of its income in North America, where its pretax profit totaled $7.2 billion. International Operations, which includes Asia, made $1.9 billion before taxes, but that was down.

During the year, GM's global sales rose 7.6 percent to 9.03 million vehicles to help it reclaim the title of world's largest automaker from Toyota Motor Corp.

This year, GM expects to increase its revenue as global auto sales grow and it charges more for models. However, it will make less money per vehicle as the mix of sales continues to shift to cars from trucks, which have bigger sticker prices. It also expects to invest $8 billion on new products and technology, and says pension expenses will rise. The company wants to keep expenses down by freezing its underfunded U.S. pension plan for salaried workers.

GM said 47,500 blue-collar workers in the U.S. will get $7,000 profit-sharing checks in March. The checks are based on North American performance and are a record for the company.

The company has placed Vice Chairman Steve Girsky in charge of the European management board and is adding executives in preparation for restructuring. Factory closures and layoffs are likely but could provoke a fight with powerful labor unions.

Girsky has said GM intends to fix the European unit, made up of the Opel and Vauxhall brands, and keep it in the company. GM came close to selling the unit in 2009.

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The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

 

Overall through the entire year the company has made progress but there is more work to do in Europe and South America, says Daniel Ammann, General Motors CFO, who adds, "The company has more work to do all across the company to get to the efficiency w...