GM records its highest profit ever: $7.6 billion
John F Williams | 17 Feb 2012

It's 47,500 blue-collar workers in the U.S. will get $7,000 profit-sharing checks in March.

GENERAL MOTORS earned its biggest profit ever in 2011, but signs are emerging that its momentum could slow. Strong sales in the U.S. and China helped the carmaker turn a profit of $7.6 billion, beating its old record of $6.7 billion in 1997.

Yet the company lost ground in the fourth quarter. Its profit fell 8 percent and missed Wall Street expectations. Europe and South America reported losses. Still, GM is a vastly different company than it was in  late 1990s. It  has less debt and its contract with the United Auto Workers is less costly.

But it took a government bailout and bankruptcy protection in 2009 to cut its bloated costs. The company made record money last year even though U.S. sales were near historic lows of 12.8 million cars and trucks.

This year, GM expects to increase its revenue as global sales grow and it charges more for models. However, it will make less money per vehicle as the mix of sales continues to shift to cars from trucks, which have bigger sticker prices. It also expects to invest $8 billion on new products and technology, and says pension expenses will rise.

The company wants to keep expenses down by freezing its underfunded U.S. pension plan for salaried workers. That's good news for the U.S. government, which still owns 26.5 percent of the company and is waiting for the share price to rise .

"We clearly have work to do in Europe, we have work to do with the South American business," CFO  said.

The 2011 profit of $4.58 per share was 62 percent higher than a year earlier. Full-year revenue rose 11 percent to $150 billion. During the year, GM's global sales rose 7.6 percent to 9.03 million vehicles to help it reclaim the title of world's largest automaker from Toyota Motor Corp. 47,500 blue-collar workers in the U.S. will get $7,000 profit-sharing checks in March.