AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Chrysler Corp. said yesterday that fourth-quarter earnings rose 4.4 percent, beating expectations on the power of continued strong minivan, sport utility and pickup truck sales.
The automaker said profit from operations rose to a record $1.09 billion, or $1.51 a share fully diluted, compared with net income of $1.04 billion, or $1.33 a share, a year earlier.
Chrysler was the industry's strongest performer in 1996, riding the popularity of its Jeep sport utility vehicles, Dodge and Plymouth minivans, and Ram and Dakota pickup trucks.
Chrysler says it can foil skeptics and maintain momentum this year by increasing truck production and introducing new models. Its 1996 sales record came largely at the expense of General Motors Corp.'s market share.
Investors applauded the fourth-quarter results, which beat average analyst estimates of $1.43 a share fully diluted, which assumes that all convertible securities are changed into common stock. Chrysler stock rose $1.50 to $36 in trading of 4.8 million shares, double the three-month daily average.
Revenue rose 7.9 percent to $16.25 billion from $15.01 billion, the company said. Charges totaling $279 million, or 39 cents a share, in the latest quarter resulted in net income of $807 million, or $1.12 a share.
The charges were for the retirement of debt, the write-down of the Pentastar Electronics subsidiary that Chrysler sold in January, and costs related to increased pensions for hourly workers and an early retirement program for salaried workers.
"It was a terrific year for Chrysler and for employees and for shareholders," said Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Robert J. Eaton.
Chrysler's success is pegged to its ability to meet consumer demand for truck -- rather than car -- models. Chrysler devoted 66 percent of its North American production to trucks, minivans and sport utilities, whose sales are more profitable than cars. That compares with Ford Motor Co.'s 55 percent and General Motors' 40 percent.
Higher truck sales helped increase Chrysler's 1996 U.S. market share to 16.1 percent from 14.7. GM's share fell to 31.3 percent from 32.8 percent, and Ford's was little changed.
After-tax profit per vehicle rose to $1,331 in the fourth quarter from $1,271 in the year-earlier period. Retail incentives were $660 per vehicle in the fourth quarter, compared with $685 in the third quarter and $495 in the fourth quarter of 1995.
The automaker's 75,200 hourly and salaried employees will receive profit-sharing checks in February that will average $7,900, the highest since $8,000 in 1994.