DETROIT-- While profits rose in its fourth quarter, TRW Automotive Holdings Inc. continues to be troubled by ongoing government antitrust investigations.
The vehicle-safety products supplier recorded $11 million in legal fees for its fourth quarter of 2011, down from $13 million in the third quarter.
TRW is under investigation for antitrust activities in Europe, as is Stockholm-based competitor Autoliv Inc.
Suppliers are linked to a three-continent investigation into price fixing and bid rigging across several product lines, including wire harnesses and safety products.
The U.S. Department of Justice-led investigation has generated fines totaling $748 million since October 2011. Japan-based suppliers Furukawa Electric Co. Ltd., Yazaki Corp. and Denso Corp. already have arranged plea deals for their involvement in antitrust activities.
If TRW is found guilty of wrongdoing, its potential fine could be more than $400 million, based on market share, according to an analyst note put out last month by JPMorgan Chase.
TRW executives declined to go into detail about the investigation during today's earnings call. CEO John Plant said more information should be available in three to six months.
CFO Joseph Cantie said TRW expects to gain clarity, not resolution, on the ongoing antitrust investigation in 2012.
"With a passage of time, you gain that," Cantie said in a media conference call this morning. "Beyond that, we can't say anything further regarding the matter. But just positive time itself should allow the clarity to begin to occur and as we try to describe, that's one of the piece of the jigsaw puzzle."
The stigma from the investigation did not affect the company's stock today.
TRW shares rose the most in more than two years after topping analysts' profit estimates, boosted by increased auto production in North America and demand for its safety products.
TRW at one point climbed more than 15 percent, the biggest intraday gain since November 2009. The shares ended the day up 14 percent to $47.43. Before today, TRW had risen 27 percent this year after sliding 38 percent in 2011.
Fourth-quarter profit rose to $425 million, or $3.27 a share, from $204 million, or $1.56, TRW said today in a statement. Excluding some items, profit was $1.84 a share. The average of seven analysts' estimates in a Bloomberg survey was for a profit of $1.55.
Sales in the quarter increased 7.4 percent to $3.99 billion, compared with $3.96 billion, the average of six estimates in a Bloomberg survey.
Bloomberg and Ellen Mitchell contributed to this report.