German automotive group Daimler reported a surprise increase in first-quarter operating profit on Friday, in part thanks to stronger than expected earnings at its financial services business. Earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) rose 5 per cent to 2.13 billion euros ($2.82 billion), better than the 1.93 billion estimated in a Reuters poll of 15 banks and brokerages. Daimler said it still expects its ongoing operations to report an EBIT in the magnitude of last year, when it earned 9.0 billion euros before interest and tax, guidance so far deemed as credible by the market. “We have started the year with a strong first quarter, despite higher investment in future growth and a challenging market environment,” said Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche in a statement, pointing to higher quarterly car sales, revenue, EBIT and net profit. The margin at the Mercedes car brand, the metric most comparable with profitability at rivals BMW and Audi, slid about 90 basis points to 8.4 per cent.