General Motors said it would delay its fourth-quarter statement and restate four years of past results because of an accounting error dating back to the end of 2001.
The world's largest automaker also said it had expected to be profitable in the fourth quarter, with net income expected to "improve significantly" compared with a year earlier on record revenue for the quarter.
The accounting problems marked the latest embarrassment for GM, which last year pledged to tighten its controls after restating six years of results and disclosing accounting probes by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
"It's concerning that this is becoming a pattern, but it does not really reflect on their financial condition right now," Fitch Ratings Managing Director Mark Oline said. "There is nothing in there that causes near-term concern."
GM on Thursday said it had underestimated retained earnings on its balance sheet by between $450 million and $600 million between 2002 and 2006. In addition, the world's No. 1 automaker said it was reviewing its accounting for hedges on interest rates, commodities and foreign exchange that would prompt more restatements of operating results.
GM, which in November sold a 51% stake in GMAC to a group led by Cerberus FIM Investors, also said its former financial arm needed more time to prepare two sets of audited financial statements. One of those statements is for the close of the GMAC sale at end-November and the other is for the end of the fourth quarter, it said. GM had been scheduled to report fourth-quarter and full-year results on Tuesday.
GM said it would provide further information on the progress of its financial reporting in the week of Feb. 5 and would file its annual report by March 1.
More Work To Go
"We continue to be vigilant in looking at our accounts to make sure that they are properly stated," GM Chief Financial Officer Fritz Henderson told reporters on a conference call. "On the other hand, the fact that we have discovered errors tells us we have a lot more work to go."
Henderson said part of the delay in reporting from GMAC related to ResCap, the holding company for its mortgage financing business, which earlier this month announced plans to cut 7% of its staff.
"There is a fair amount of pressure in the (mortgage) sector," Henderson said. "As a result, we have to take good care that if there are restatements, that they are done with the most current information."
GM, which has lost about $3 billion in the first three quarters of 2006, said it expected to be profitable in the fourth quarter on a consolidated basis. The automaker also disclosed that it had ended the year with about $26.4 billion in cash and equivalents, up about $5.9 billion from a year earlier, reflecting the GMAC sale.
GM repeated that the implementation of new accounting rules for retirement benefits would mean that it would have negative stockholder's equity on a book value basis at the end of 2006.
But it also said its pension fund had achieved a return of 15% in 2006 and that its pension plans were overfunded by $17 billion as of the end of the year.
Morningstar analyst John Novak said the positive disclosures from GM appeared to outweigh the negative from its restatements. "Buried in this release is that they are feeling pretty good about their revenue and wanted to boast about their fourth-quarter prospects," Novak said.
"The market may key more on that than anything else here."
GM last year restated 2005 results, increasing its reported loss by $2 billion to $10.6 billion for that year. It also restated earnings from 2000 through 2004 as a result of errors in booking credits it received from suppliers -- a key issue the SEC has examined, according to past disclosures.
The automaker is also under SEC investigation for its accounting of transactions of precious metals. GM, which has stopped providing financial forecasts, is in the middle of a restructuring that includes the slashing of more than 34,000 jobs and the closing of 12 plants.