Now that the applause for
new labor deal has died down on Wall Street, the world's largest automaker has another tightrope to walk for its next act.
With GM's third-quarter report due Wednesday morning, analysts' expectations are coming down amid new anxieties about the credit crisis and subprime lending fiasco.
Last week, Wall Street was expecting the automaker to report earnings of 32 cents a share for the quarter, according to Thomson First Call's average estimate. On Monday, the figure had been lowered to a loss of 11 cents a share, and recently, the forecast had worsened to a loss of 20 cents a share.
Analysts' forecasts for GM's results have been notoriously wild and inaccurate since the company stopped providing guidance during 2005, a year when the company originally predicted it would earn $4 to $5 a share only to wind up with a $10.6 billion loss.
A slew of factors have Wall Street's prognosticators slashing their forecasts.
On one side, GMAC last week reported a $1.6 billion third-quarter loss related to continuing problems at Residential Capital, its mortgage business. That's sure to weigh on GM's results, since the automaker still owns a 49% stake in its former in-house finance unit.
On the other side, problems are persisting in the bankruptcy proceedings of its chief parts supplier and former subsidiary,
, which is struggling to win financing in the wake of the global credit crunch.
On top of all that, continued sales declines in North America, exacerbated by high gas prices and consumer spending worries, is a major headwind for GM. Moreover, the costs related to the recent two-day strike waged by the United Auto Workers are also expected to be large.
GMAC, Delphi Sputter
GMAC's third-quarter loss was entirely due to a $1.8 billion loss from its home lending unit, known as ResCap. ResCap's red ink for the period surpassed that of
, the nation's largest mortgage lender, which is garnering the bulk of the criticism on Wall Street for its lending practices.
Bear Stearns analyst Peter Nesvold said in a research note that GMAC's quarterly loss from continuing operations amounted to $1.1 billion, and he had been expecting a profit of $62 million on that basis. He estimated that the results will shave $1 a share off GM's earnings for the quarter.
GM sold a controlling stake in GMAC last year to a consortium of lenders led by Cerberus Capital Management after a long period in which it depended on the finance unit as its only engine of profitability.
Shares of GM have also been hurt lately by Delphi's new bankruptcy plan, which was revised last week after the auto supplier hit trouble securing financing in a market where credit for distressed situations has become scarce. Among the changes is a drop in cash payments to GM.
GM is counting on a healthy Delphi to deliver cheap parts, and it's also in line to pick up a large part of the tab for the company's restructuring costs. On Tuesday, Delphi reported a $1.2 billion loss for its third quarter.
Strike Hits Hard
Burnham Securities analyst David Healy said in a recent note to clients that he estimates the UAW strike in September will cut GM's third-quarter results by 25 cents a share, due to shutdown and startup expenses as well as output losses. Even without the strike, Healy said GM would have suffered a year-over-year decline in earnings of 75% to 80%.
"Chief culprit, we believe, will be the absence of any significant earnings contribution from GMAC," said Healy. "The financial subsidiary contributed about 58 cents a share to profits in the third quarter of 2006."
On its top line, GM has shown some U.S. market share traction in its recent monthly sales reports, but Nesvold believes the company's sales are still slowing faster than Wall Street expected. He expects that to weigh on the stock as the euphoria stemming from labor negotiations subsides.
Nesvold wrote that since the UAW ratified its contract, "labor-related news flow seems to be a fading focus for the stock; instead, GM's nearer-term fundamentals appear to be of heightened importance."
Indeed, shares of GM have dropped 17% since hitting a 52-week high of $43.20 in mid-October, shortly after the UAW deal was ratified. The stock recently was down a nickel to $35.95.