Fiat Chrysler shares tank on forecast for drop in earnings

Shares in Italian American automaker Fiat Chrysler have tanked after the company issued conservative earnings forecasts for 2019.

MILAN -- Shares in Italian American automaker Fiat Chrysler tanked Thursday after the company issued conservative earnings forecasts for 2019, even as it posted record earnings last year.

Fiat Chrysler shares were temporarily suspended from trading due to excessive volatility, and then shed 11 percent to 13.55 euros ($15.39) in Milan, as analysts expressed disappointment at the earnings guidance of 6.7 billion euros for 2019.

That figure was below the full-year 2018 adjusted EBIT — or adjusted earnings before taxes, depreciation and amortization — of 7.2 billion euros, which Fiat said was a record. It also fell short of analyst forecasts of between 7.1 billion euros to 8.6 billion euros.

"I know some people looking at our guidance for 2019 and thinking it is disappointing," CEO Mike Manley said during a conference call. "But I think we are coming off a record year in 2018 ... and I think that it is a bit of a reset in some ways ... We're not happy about it. But we don't think it is life-threatening in any way."

Manley said the carmaker was confronting a disappointing launch of the Ram light duty truck in the United States, plans to ramp up underutilized plants in Europe, particularly in Fiat's native Italy, as well as issues in China and with luxury car brand Maserati.

The CEO, who took over after the unexpected death last July of long-time CEO Sergio Marchionne, said the company will stick to its five-year business plan to push production into higher-margin vehicles, which should help increase production at the Italian plants.

But Erik Gordon, a University of Michigan law and business professor, said reduced cash flow — which is expected to fall to 1.5 billion euros in 2019 from 4.4 billion euros in 2018 — "calls into question whether the company will have the resources to revamp products ... and invest in the new generation of technologies and vehicles."

Manley also said Fiat Chrysler would be open to partnerships to help reach scale in Europe and confront other industrial issues. Fiat Chrysler currently has partnerships in Europe with Peugeot on commercial vehicles and BMW on automated driving.

Fiat Chrysler will complete the sale this year of Magnetti Marelli components maker to Japanese car parts maker Calsonic Kansei for 6.2 billion euros ($7.1 billion). The sale is permitting Fiat Chrysler to pay out a special dividend along with a regular dividend for the first time in nearly a decade. They will be confirmed in April.

North America continued to drive Fiat Chrysler profits, with sales of the all-new Ram 1500 and Jeep Wrangler helping to grow fourth-quarter earnings by 61 percent to 1.29 billion euros ($1.46 billion). Revenues rose 6 percent to 30.6 billion euros.

North America profits grew by 19 percent, while the Asian division swung to a loss due to market weakness in China and more competition in Fiat Chrysler's core SUV market. Profits in Europe fell 44 percent on lower shipments and weaker pricing, while Latin America's earnings more than doubled.

The company also confirmed that it closed the year without debt.

Based on the earnings, 44,000 unionized U.S. auto workers will get $6,000 profit-sharing checks. That's $500 more than in 2017, but smaller than U.S. rivals Ford and General Motors. On Wednesday, GM announced that workers would get $10,750, while Ford workers will get $7,600.


Tom Krisher in Detroit contributed to this report.