As Chrysler Corp. releases its 1994 earnings report today, the question is not whether the auto maker will establish a record for profits. It's by how much will Chrysler's profit for the last year top its previous peak?
The No. 3 U.S. car maker, powered by surging sales of Jeeps, minivans and pickup trucks, is expected to report that it earned upward of $3.6 billion in 1994--exceeding by more than $1.2 billion the record of $2.4 billion it set in 1984.
In 1993, Chrysler lost $2.55 billion. That figure reflected a one-time accounting charge for retiree benefits of nearly $5 billion.
The charge masked what otherwise would have been a profitable year for Chrysler as it launched several new models into the heart of the Japanese-dominated U.S. market for mid-sized vehicles.
For 1994, Chrysler continued its assault on that market. Its introduction of the Neon, Dodge Ram trucks and Chrysler Cirrus allowed it to appeal to a younger generation of motorists.
For the fourth quarter, analysts have predicted that Chrysler will report profits of about $1.1 billion. That would beat the company's previous high mark of $956 million, set in the second quarter of 1994.
Lehman Bros. auto analyst Joseph Phillippi said Chrysler's fourth-quarter results will be buoyed slightly by a one-time tax credit equal to about $100 million. Even without the tax credit, he said, the improvement is substantial.
In the fourth quarter of 1993 Chrysler earned $777 million.
Earlier this month, Chairman Robert Eaton said the pile of cash generated by sales of the new models last year allowed Chrysler to pay its hourly workers bonuses and to cover its pension plan fully for the first time since 1957.
The company also shared some of its cash with investors. It doubled its annual dividend to $1.60 a share.
Chrysler is the first U.S. auto maker to report 1994 results.
Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. are to release their earnings reports later this month or early next month. Analysts estimate that GM earned $4.6 billion last year, while Ford earned $5.1 billion. In 1993, they earned about $2.5 billion each.