GM earnings could set the stage for big second half

GM CEO Dan Akerson
Arne Dedert | AFP | Getty Images
GM CEO Dan Akerson

Strange as it sounds, General Motors' second quarter earnings are the prelude to the main event many investors are waiting for: The second half of 2013.

It's well known that GM should post big numbers later this year thanks largely to a wave of new models hitting U.S. showrooms.

But before that happens, the question is whether GM rode strong sales in the U.S. and China to better-than-expected earnings in the second quarter.

(Read more: General Motors edges out Volkswagen in China)

The Thomson Reuters consensus is for GM to earn $0.74 a share on $38.37 billion in revenues.Is Europe substantially better?

A major focus of GM's second quarter earnings report will be how much the company has cut losses in Europe. The company has been working for some time to restructure its Opel division—GM's European auto brand—and despite numerous declarations that Europe is improving, many investors remain skeptical.

(Read more: Ford earnings surge past estimates as trucks shine)

As important as the quarterly loss in Europe will be for GM, CEO Dan Akerson's comments to analysts during the conference call will be even more so.

Any sign of material improvement in Europe will push GM shares higher.

U.S. and China keep rolling

While GM has not picked up market share in the first half of this year, sales have been solid, increasing 8 percent, slightly better than the industry overall.

Look for Wall Street to key in on how well the company has contained costs as it works its way through the year, and the 20 new and redesigned models rolling out. That includes plenty of questions about the new K2XX platform pickup trucks.

In China, GM is actually extending its dominance with sales growing at a faster clip than the industry overall. But, that strength may be overshadowed by concern of pricing pressure in a market that has become far more competitive.

(Read more: Bittersweet auto rebound)

Bottom line: Don't be surprised if GM beats the street in Q2, but the real news in this earnings report will come during the conference call.

—By CNBC's Phil LeBeau. Follow him on Twitter @LeBeauCarNews.

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