Next up in Detroit's earnings parade: General Motors (NYSE:GM). The General is set to report fourth-quarter and full-year 2015 earnings on Wednesday, Feb. 3.
What should we expect?
What Wall Street expects: Wall Street analysts polled by Dow Jones expect GM to post a fourth-quarter profit of $1.21 per share, on revenue of $38 billion. GM earned $1.19 per share on revenue of $39.6 billion in the fourth quarter of 2014.
What happened during the quarter: GM's biggest profit drivers were going at full speed during the quarter in the U.S., while its key overseas operations also did well.
GM's U.S. sales rose a healthy 7.1% during the period, with some of its most profitable products leading the way: Its full-size Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups posted a combined 9.6% sales increase, while its popular Chevrolet Equinox and Traverse crossover SUVs each gained 9% year over year.
In China, GM managed an impressive 12.5% overall sales gain in the fourth quarter, powering it to a 5.2% year-over-year sales increase for the full year. That gain came despite a slowing market, and at the expense of at least one key competitor: Giant arch-rival Volkswagen (NASDAQOTH:VWAGY) said that its sales in China declined 3.4% last year.
GM also showed good progress on its effort to turn around its operations in Europe after more than a decade of losses. Its Opel subsidiary posted a 3.3% year-over-year sales gain in 2015, slightly ahead of the overall market -- its best result in four years. The first three quarters of the year showed that Opel is getting much better prices for its products, which will improve its margins: Its "net pricing" improved by 700 million euros ($765 million) over the first nine months of 2015.
Europe may not post a profit in the fourth quarter, but a big improvement over the $393 million it lost in the fourth quarter of 2014 is likely. Through the first nine months of 2015, GM Europe lost $515 million, just over half of its $976 million loss through the same period in 2014.
The upshot: What to expect
GM's stock had a rough month in January, sold off (along with most of its rivals) by investors concerned about what could be peaking new-vehicle markets in the U.S. and China. GM has also taken flak from some Wall Street analysts who are skeptical that the old-line automakers can respond to the threats of "disruption" believed to be brewing in Silicon Valley.
CEO Mary Barra has begun to address those latter concerns (emphatically, in this Fool's view) with a strong new electric car, the Chevy Bolt EV, and a series of moves that make me think that GM has a very good handle on the future of "personal mobility."
I continue to think that the market will recognize the growing renaissance of America's largest automaker in time. But in the meantime, GM is continuing to book solid profits on sales of its very competitive trucks and SUVs in a still-hot market. I expect that GM will beat Wall Street's estimates by a bit when it reports on Wednesday -- and there might be a positive surprise or two for investors in the numbers as well.