DETROIT -- Stout truck sales in North America in the third quarter and a soft landing from economic concerns in China helped General Motors to its best financial performance since before its 2009 bankruptcy.
Pretax operating profit -- the number that GM says best represents its underlying financial performance and a key focus for investors -- surged 37 percent from a year earlier to $3.1 billion. GM officials called it a quarterly record, but that doesn't take into account the era before bankruptcy.
North America accounted for the bulk of that gain, offsetting continued losses in Europe, South America and parts of Asia, excluding China. Growing retail market share in midsize and full-size pickups helped lift North America operating income 34 percent to $3.29 billion. That tally beat the average forecast of analysts by about $500 million.
The rich sales mix of pickups and SUVs combined with an effort to reduce logistics and materials costs to give GM an 11.8 percent profit margin in North America, also the highest since before bankruptcy.
Despite the strong operating numbers, GM's bottom line was hurt by the fallout from last year's ignition-switch recall crisis. Net income dropped 1.4 percent from a year earlier to $1.36 billion, reduced by about $1.5 billion in one-time, pretax expenses for legal settlements related to its handling of the deadly defect.
Still, the results impressed analysts and investors.
"We have long argued that investors underappreciated the new management discipline," Barclays Capital analyst Brian Johnson wrote in an investor note. "We see that paying off in successful product initiatives ... accelerated cost-reduction efforts and quick moves to stabilize China."