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An employee removes plastic cover from an emblem of a Volkswagen Golf car during a photocall in a production line at the Volkswagen headquarters in Wolfsburg November 14, 2008. (CHRISTIAN CHARISIUS/REUTERS)
An employee removes plastic cover from an emblem of a Volkswagen Golf car during a photocall in a production line at the Volkswagen headquarters in Wolfsburg November 14, 2008. (CHRISTIAN CHARISIUS/REUTERS)

Volkswagen's bumper year ends in disappointment Add to ...

Volkswagen, the world’s second-largest car maker, posted an unexpected decline in fourth-quarter operating profit as inventories of unsold vehicles nearly doubled, ending an otherwise bumper year on a downbeat note.

Based on preliminary full-year results published on Friday, quarterly operating profit slipped 0.9 per cent to €2.29-billion, just missing forecasts for a slight increase to €2.38-billion.

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The results come after Europe’s number two car maker PSA Peugeot Citroen pledged to sell key assets and cut more costs after its automotive business swung to an operating loss.

The French rival is now in talks with General Motors’ loss-making German car maker Opel, because it has a high exposure to the shrinking European market, unlike Volkswagen.

VW is not entirely immune to the economic downturn in its home region, though, despite its strong market position in the relatively dynamic economies of Asia and Latin America.

Car production at VW outstripped deliveries by nearly 100,000 in the final quarter, creating a stock of unsold vehicles that was nearly twice as big as the number of cars built in the first nine months.

The group’s cash pile, needed to fund the possible takeover of Porsche’s sports car business this year, shrank to €17-billion at the end of December from over €21-billion three months earlier.

“It’s not bad at all though, considering they splashed out some 7 billion to buy shares in MAN and increased their investments due to the all new Up! minicar and upcoming Audi A3,” said Silvia Quandt analyst Albrecht Denninghoff.

“After this amazing rally at the start of the year, though, upside potential is dwindling, so adding to your (investment) position now is not as great an idea as it was two weeks ago,” he said.

Shares in Volkswagen edged 0.4 per cent lower to €138.60 by 1100 GMT, trailing a European autos sector that gained 0.6 per cent.

Preferred stockholders will receive a payout of €3.06 per share, which was below the average estimate of €3.16.

Volkswagen is expected to publish detailed results for the full year and an outlook for 2012 at its annual news conference on March 12.

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