Narrowing losses in Europe and Latin America and a record quarter by its financing unit lift General Motors Corp. to first-quarter net income of $1.5 billion, or $2.71 per share, up from $228 million, or 57 cents per share, during like-2002.

The results crush most Wall Street estimates, which averaged $1.55-$1.60 per share.

But optimism is tempered by concern over the U.S. economy. GM forecasts it will be profitable during each quarter of 2003, including earning at least $1 per share during April-June. But the auto maker reveals it is less confident it will hit its earnings goal of $5 per share for 2003 due to the weak economy.

“I think we are less certain,” admits GM Chief Financial Officer John Devine. “I think the caution we provided is particular to the U.S. because it is our biggest market. Certainly the war has had some impact. But it's more than that. It's where is the economy going and what are the drivers going forward?”

U.S. market share fell to 26.6% in the first quarter from like-2002's 28.2%. “We had a bang-up fourth quarter,” he says. “The first quarter was not up to our expectations. I think it's appropriate that, as you look at our performance, you look at it over a little longer wheelbase than the first quarter. When you do that it's about a 28% share.”