General Motors Co's quarterly profit more than tripled, beating expectations, driven by a recovery in the U.S. market and strong sales in Asia.
The U.S. automaker also said on Thursday it expects its full-year adjusted earnings before interest and taxes to show solid improvement from 2010 helped by better pricing and lower fixed costs in North America.
GM's results follow those of rival Ford Motor Co, which last week posted its best first-quarter profit in 13 years as higher prices for redesigned vehicles offset pressure from spiking commodity and oil prices.
GM filed for bankruptcy in 2009 after being hit by the housing downturn and a spike in gasoline prices the year before that caused consumers to turn away from its high-profit trucks. In 2009, the company was saved by a $52 billion bailout funded by U.S. taxpayers.
Last November, GM sold shares in an initial public offering. The U.S. government still owns 32 percent of common stock.
In addition to its strength in China, GM's U.S. sales have not suffered as consumers have turned more to smaller cars and compact crossovers to offset gas prices now at around $4 a gallon.
Its April sales rose 26 percent and it retook the top spot it lost to Ford the prior month.
GM's net income in the first quarter rose to $3.2 billion, or $1.77 a share, compared with $900 million, or 55 cents a share, in the year earlier quarter. It was GM's fifth consecutive quarterly profit.
Excluding such one-time items as its sales of stakes in parts maker Delphi and Ally Financial, it earned 95 cents a share. That was 4 cents better than what analysts polled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S had expected.
Revenue rose to $36.2 billion from $31.5 billion last year. Analysts had expected $35.59 billion.
GM Chief Financial Officer Dan Ammann said GM is set up well to profit from higher gasoline prices with a much more diversified portfolio than three years ago when gas prices were last this high.
We had a very high, robust April, 19.8 percent market share in April with the lowest incentives we've had as the new company, he told reporters.
Ammann said GM's U.S. sales incentives are currently running slightly below the industry average and that they will be at or slightly below the industry for the rest of the year.
GM was heavily criticized by Wall Street analysts for its lofty incentives in January and February that cut into profit per vehicle. GM cut back incentives in March and April.
GM's North American operations posted adjusted earnings in the quarter before interest and taxes of $1.3 billion, up $100 million from last year.
It expects its North American results to improve on average for the rest of the year as better pricing and lower fixed costs more than offset higher commodity costs and more sales of less-profitable vehicles.
GM's European unit broke even on an adjusted earnings before interest and taxes basis and is targeting break-even before restructuring charges for the entire year.
GM's liquidity at the end of the quarter rose to $36.5 billion after the sales of the Delphi and Ally stakes. Cash and marketing securities grew to $30.6 billion from $27.6 billion at the end of the fourth quarter.
The automaker continues to expect no material impact on full-year results from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, but Ammann was not specific in detailing how GM would react to the shortage of Japanese-made vehicles in the coming months.
In fact, due to the struggles of Toyota Motor Corp and other Japanese automakers due to the Japan crisis, GM stands in 2011 to gain 1.1 percentage points in market share, and boost this year's profits before interest and taxes by $1 billion, UBS analyst Colin Langan said in a research note.
(Reporting by Ben Klayman and Bernie Woodall in Detroit; Editing by Derek Caney)