General Motors Earnings: 3 Things to Watch

By Markets Fool.com

General Motors (NYSE: GM) will report its third-quarter earnings before the bell on Tuesday, Oct. 25. Here's a look at what to expect -- andwhat to watch for in the General's report.

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What Wall Street expects

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expect GM to report earnings of $1.44 per share, on average. That's down a bit from the $1.50 per share that GM earned in the third quarter of 2015, reflecting somewhat softer overall U.S. sales.

What to watch for in GM's earnings report

Profits and outlook in North America. GM's North America business unit is by far its most profitable. Those profits are powered by U.S. sales, with GM's highly profitable pickups and SUVs playing an outsized role. GM's overall U.S. sales were down 2.6% from a strong year-ago quarter on a planned reduction in rental-fleet deliveries; its retail sales were roughly flat year over year.

Silverado sales fell in the third quarter, but GM resisted the temptation to crank up incentives in response. That may have helped preservestrong profits. Image source: General Motors.

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Sales of the mainstay Chevrolet Silverado pickup were down a bit from a year ago, but pricing remained strong, for the most part. Other key profit drivers were on track: GM's big SUVs continued to sell at steadily high rates, and Cadillac sales ticked up 2.8% on a promising start for the brand's new XT5 crossover SUV.

Long story short, the bottom line should look good. But will GM's outlook for North America continue to be positive?

Rival Ford (NYSE: F) had a much more pessimistic view of the U.S. market last quarter, saying that its full-year guidance is at risk and that it expected its sales to dip next year. But GM's outlook seems to have remained upbeat. GM has been moving to boost production of several key products, apparently in expectation of continued strong demand; we'll be listening closely to management's expectations for 2017.

China, China, China. Together with its Chinese joint-venture partners, GM sells more vehicles in China than it does anywhere else. GM's sales in China grew nicely during the quarter, powered by continued high demand for the Buick Envision and Baojun 560 crossover SUVs.

But there's a catch: A sales-tax incentive will expire at the end of 2016. Has that incentive motivated some consumers to buy before they might have otherwise -- or put another way, has some of the current demand been "pulled forward" from next year? We'll be listening closely to GM's outlook for sales in China into 2017.

How bad is Brexit? CFO Chuck Stevens said last quarter that adverse currency shifts following the U.K.'s vote to exit the European Union could hurt GM Europe's pre-tax earnings for the remainder of 2016 by as much as $400 million. GM Europe was a money loser for years, but a successful restructuring and growing sales have it on the verge of its first full year of profitability in ages -- if Brexit's impact is limited. Pay close attention to what Stevens says about Brexit this time around.

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John Rosevear owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Ford. The Motley Fool recommends General Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.