Ford Motor Co., the second-largest U.S. automaker, reported fourth-quarter profit that exceeded estimates as demand for its F-Series pickups drove record results for its operations in North America.
Ford reported net income of $1.6 billion, or 40 cents a share. Excluding one-time items, the per-share profit was 31 cents, exceeding the 25-cent average estimate of 19 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. The result compared with net income of $13.6 billion, or $3.40 a share, a year earlier, when a tax gain boosted fourth-quarter earnings.
Chief executive officer Alan Mulally is using Ford’s turnaround in the U.S. to guide efforts to recover in Europe more quickly than competitors including General Motors Co. Rising demand for F-Series trucks in Ford’s home market paced a record $8.34 billion annual pretax profit for the company’s operations in North America, which countered overseas losses. Ford U.S. hourly workers will receive profit-sharing bonuses.
“I’m still bullish on Ford,” said Gary Bradshaw, a fund manager for Dallas-based Hodges Capital Management, which sold about half of its shares before they started to rally in late October. “I’m going to hang on and hope it comes back to $18 a share.” Ford closed at $13.78 Monday in New York.
Ford reported net income of $5.67 billion for the full year. The profit in 2012 boosts the company’s earnings to $35.2 billion the past four years after losing $30.1 billion from 2006 through 2008.
The automaker will be about a year ahead of GM in efforts to revamp operations in Europe, Peter Nesvold, a Jefferies Group Inc. analyst with a buy rating on the shares, said before results were released. Losses will begin to disappear in about two years, chief financial officer Bob Shanks said in an interview this month during the Detroit auto show.
Ford’s operating profit in North America topped the company’s previous record of $6.2 billion in 2011. The region’s operating margin of 10.4 percent for the full year also surpassed 2010′s record of 8.4 percent. Ford has said it wants to achieve profit margins of 8 percent to 10 percent in North America over the long term in an industry where 5 percent is considered respectable.
Increased demand for Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford’s F- Series, which have led the full-size pickup segment in the U.S. for 36 years, is pacing the company’s results at home. F-Series deliveries climbed 10 percent last year to 645,316, surpassing the 4.7 percent gain in Ford’s total U.S. vehicle sales.
Ford’s fourth-quarter revenue rose 5.5 percent to $36.5 billion, beating the $33 billion average estimate of 11 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.
Ford will pay profit sharing of about $8,300 on average to its 45,300 hourly workers represented by the United Auto Workers in March, a record payout, according to a company statement. The company paid $2,450 to each of its 41,600 workers for second-half 2011 profits a year earlier.
Mulally, 67, this month showed an F-150 prototype at the Detroit auto show with features that boost fuel economy and foreshadow Ford’s future for the segment. GM introduces revamped Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks later this year.
The F-Series accounts for 90 percent of Ford’s global auto profits, according to a Morgan Stanley estimate, and is helping underwrite the company’s European restructuring. Ford plans to shutter three factories in Europe by the end of next year and cut 6,200 jobs, or 13 percent of its workforce there, in an effort to break even in the region by mid-decade.
Optimism about Ford’s prospects in Europe helped its shares rise this month to their highest level since May 2011. Analysts are divided about where it goes from here. Buckingham Research Group, Barclays Plc and Deutsche Bank AG have downgraded the stock in the past week. At the same time, at least seven analysts have raised their price target for the shares this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Ford’s board signaled increased conviction in the company’s European restructuring plan by doubling the quarterly dividend earlier this month, said Nesvold of New York-based Jefferies. The first-quarter dividend of 10 cents per share will be payable March 1 to shareholders of record as of tomorrow.
Ford Europe lost $732 million in the fourth quarter and $1.75 billion in the region for the full year.
Demand in Europe fell 7.8 percent last year to 12.5 million vehicle registrations, the lowest in 19 years, the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, or ACEA, said this month. Ford’s registrations plunged 13 percent to 939,409, according to the Brussels-based trade group.
Mulally revived Ford after arriving in 2006 from Boeing Co. by using $23.4 billion that the company borrowed late that year to overhaul its lineup with fuel-efficient models such as the Focus and Fiesta. Those efforts were preceded by plans to restructure the company’s North American operations beginning in October 2005, said CFO Shanks.
“If we had not started then, if we had waited until the overall economic crisis was evident, we would not have been ready for it,” he said earlier this month. “That’s another interesting learning on Europe — there was no evidence from the outside when people looked at what we were doing that we were making any progress.”
Ford plans to introduce its Mustang sports car in Europe soon and is tripling its sport-utility vehicle offerings on the continent, Mulally said in September. The automaker is adding the subcompact EcoSport SUV, just 13 feet, 1 inch long, and the Edge midsized utility to its European lineup, which already includes the Kuga compact, known in the U.S. as the Escape.
Ford restarted production at its factory in Genk, Belgium, last week after a blockade by workers over plans to shut the site ended. The company hadn’t shipped a vehicle from the plant since it said the factory will shut for good in 2014. A factory in Southampton, England, that makes chassis cabs for the Transit van and a stamping plant in Dagenham, on the outskirts of London, will close this year.