US auto supplier earnings likely will be muted in the first quarter as production volumes from US auto makers changed little while raw materials and supply chain costs picked up, a Dow Jones report said.

The raw material situation - high steel prices and high plastic resin and foam prices - affects nearly every supplier.

Meanwhile, smaller, privately held suppliers of basic components that sell to the top publicly traded suppliers have been stung by the bankruptcies of Dana, Tower Automotive, Delphi and Collins & Aikman Corp and many of them have required more financial help, the news agency noted.

Suppliers of plastic components and foam also are demanding price increases, something top suppliers usually aren't able to pass along to auto makers, Dow Jones added.

"You're seeing cost creep from the second-tier and third-tier suppliers," Brett Hoselton, an analyst with KeyBanc Capital Markets, told the news agency. "You're looking at mild year-over-year earnings increases. It really varies depending on the company."

Dow Jones noted that some top suppliers spent record amounts in 2005 to prop up their own supply base - and that trend continues - but the industry isn't without some bright spots: Suppliers that have a more diversified customer base and are less dependent on General Motors and Ford should fare better than their peers, analysts told the news agency.

Even within Ford and GM, suppliers to hot-selling models such as GM's new line of sport utility vehicles and Ford's Fusion line should see that revenue help offset the challenges, the report added.

Also, suppliers with sales to makers of heavy commercial trucks should see better first-quarter earnings growth, John Novak, an analyst with Morningstar, told Dow Jones.

"There's definitely a benefit from the Class 8 (heavy truck) business," Novak reportedly said.

Companies with heavy truck exposure include ArvinMeritor and, to a lesser extent, Tenneco, the report said.

"Truck production appears to be very, very solid," KeyBanc's Hoselton told Dow Jones.

Still, not many analysts are predicting positive first-quarter surprises, the report said.

"I don't expect any surprises to the upside," Novak told Dow Jones. "The fundamentals haven't changed a whole lot."

Restructuring charges are another item that will reduce some supplier earnings, Novak said. Though the first quarter won't likely see the massive goodwill write-downs some companies took at the end of 2005, the industry as a whole is still paying to reduce capacity, he said, according to the report.