Daimler lowers 2012 outlook as Q3 net profit slips

BERLIN -- German automaker Daimler AG lowered its full-year earnings target Wednesday after its third quarter net profit declined 11 percent to (EURO)1.20 billion ($1.6 billion) from (EURO)1.36 billion a year ago.

The bad news for shareholders came as the company's earnings report was accidentally sent to some media, forcing Daimler to advance its full release by a day.

The mishap came just a week after Google Inc. also saw its earnings report released ahead of time.

The carmaker, based in Stuttgart, said its revenue rose by 8 percent to (EURO)28.6 billion, thanks to stronger sales of its Mercedes Benz luxury cars, but overall car and commercial vehicle sales remained almost flat at 528,600 units.

CEO Dieter Zetsche, who also heads the Mercedes division, said Daimler achieved good earnings "considering the significantly more difficult market conditions."

Still, Daimler lowered its full-year operating profit outlook due to the economic challenges in its key markets and more intense competition, it said. Zetsche added the company "will still post good earnings" but the operating profit is now expected to total around (EURO)8 billion instead of its previous target of (EURO)8.8 billion.

The Mercedes division saw a new sales record for the third quarter powered by stronger demand in the U.S., especially for its SUVs. Unit sales were up by 2 percent to 345,400, and the division's revenue rose to (EURO)15.2 billion from (EURO)13.8 billion a year earlier, the company said.

While the division remains what analysts call Daimler's strongest asset, it faces sluggish sales because of Europe's economic crisis, slowing growth in China and pressure to offer discounts on vehicles.

Sales in China slumped by 20 percent to 47,000 vehicles. In Western Europe, its biggest market, sales fell 4 percent to 143,000 units, the company said. The Mercedes Benz division's main bright spot were the U.S. where sales jumped 35 percent to 74,000 units.

Daimler's truck division saw slight growth, with unit sales up by 3 percent to 119,100 vehicles amid robust demand in North America and Asia. Sales in its van business, however, fell by 12 percent to 55,700 units "due to the market decline in Western Europe," it said. The company's bus sales also fell by 10 percent to 8,300 units.

Daimler initially planned to release its earnings report early Thursday in Europe, but it was accidentally sent to journalists in the United States early Wednesday afternoon. The company's press department in New York quickly sent out another email, asking all recipients to ignore the earnings statement because it was "not the actual release yet."

But the damage was done, and the headquarters quickly decided to send out ahead of schedule the official earnings _ with the very same figures on the press release.

At least, Daimler _ renowned for the reliability of its German cars _ could find solace for the earnings release mishap by being in good company.

Last week, Internet search leader Google, which takes pride in organizing the world's information, lost control of its own data when a contractor released its earnings report more than three hours before the numbers were supposed to come out.

Dow Chemical, the industrial giant from Midland, Michigan, also advanced its earnings release on Wednesday after it inadvertently released some of its relevant information on a restructuring plan late Tuesday.


Juergen Baetz can be reached on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jbaetz