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updated: 1/30/2013 10:31 AM

U.S. helps Fiat Q4 profit more than double

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Associated Press

MILAN -- Fiat SpA, the Italian automaker that controls Chrysler LLC, said Wednesday it had reduced its fourth-quarter losses in Europe last year, helping earnings more than double as North American sales continued to surge.

The carmaker based in the northern Italian city of Turin posted net profit of (euro) 102 million ($138 million), up from (euro) 43 million in the same period last year as Fiat. Revenues were (euro) 21.8 billion.

For the full year, net profit shrank to (euro) 348 million from (euro) 1.3 billion in 2011. Fiat owns 58.5 percent of Chrysler, which earned $1.7 billion last year as Jeep, Dodge, Chrysler and Ram all registered double-digit sales increases.

The two carmakers combined sold 4.2 million vehicles last year, with North American sales rising 20 percent to 2.1 million. Europe registered a 14 percent decrease in to just over 1 million. Fiat's home market of Italy contributed less than 10 percent to the carmaker's overall sales -- an all-time low for the 114-year-old company that is the nation's largest private sector employer.

Fiat also said Wednesday it would not pay a dividend so it can afford further investments -- including the possibility of buying out the autoworker's pension trust fund holding in Chrysler.

The Veba trust has asked Chrysler to start the process of a public stock offering so it can sell its shares. Fiat, meanwhile, is waiting for a resolution on the price it has offered for two tranches of 3.3 percent each.

`'If we cannot find a way to satisfy Veba, then I think the company will go public," Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne told analysts. `'it is my objective at the end of the process for Fiat and Chrysler to be one corporate entity."

It ended the year with (euro) 20.8 billion in cash -- (euro) 11.1 billion of which is available to Fiat, which includes the Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Rome brands as well as luxury marques Ferrari and Maserati. Luxury and performance brands Ferrari and Maserati both saw sales increase slightly.

Fiat plans to invest billions in the coming years to launch 17 new models, mostly for export, at its Italian plants, which have been running at half capacity. Marchionne inaugurated a new Maserati factory near Turin on Wednesday where it produces the next generation Quattroporte sedan and will add the smaller Ghibli later this year. It is part of Fiat's new focus on higher-margin luxury brands.

Marchionne said the 2012 results were not a one-off, confirming 2013 forecasts for (euro) 1.2 billion to (euro) 1.5 billion in profits on revenues between (euro) 88 billion and (euro) 92 billion.

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