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Ford’s third quarter $1.9B part of ‘breakthrough year’

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. more than doubled its income with record North America profits during an “outstanding” third quarter. But a new contract with the United Auto Workers, along with other seasonal costs, will eat into the bottom line and lead to lower fourth quarter numbers to end what President and CEO Mark Fields calls a “breakthrough year.”

The Dearborn automaker’s executives still expect “spectacular” fourth quarter results, but revenue, income and profits are typically weaker to close out the year. Ford usually spends more in advertising to promote new model year vehicles and has added costs associated with winter plant downtime. Additionally, this year, it will have to deal with a new labor deal that its 52,900 union workers expect will include wage increases, improved profit sharing and rich signing bonuses.

“We’ll still have a very strong fourth quarter,” said Bob Shanks, Ford’s chief financial officer. “If you look at our business, year in and year out right across the board North America, other regions as well, we have cost increases on a sequential basis going from the third quarter into the fourth quarter. And we expect to see that happen again this year.”

Despite the strong numbers, Ford’s stock opened sharply lower Tuesday and finished down 5.04 percent to $14.89 a share thanks largely to the fact that Ford missed analysts’ earnings-per-share expectations by a penny after analysts used a different tax rate.

Citibank, in a Tuesday research note, said analysts’ expectations “may have been too high on F-150 and China” and it expected “a slight negative stock reaction” after the earnings-per-share miss.

On Tuesday morning, Ford posted earnings of $1.9 billion in the third quarter, up $1.1 billion from the same time a year ago. Its pre-tax profit of $2.7 billion was a third quarter record and more than double the $1.2 billion it made in the third quarter of last year. Ford posted revenue of $38.1 billion, up $3.2 billion, beating analysts’ estimates. Ford’s third quarter earnings per share was 45 cents per share.

Through the first nine months of the year, Ford has made $4.7 billion — already more than the $3.2 billion in net income it earned in all of 2014.

“Finally, Ford is delivering the results it promised with the new F-Series pickup finally gaining momentum, not only producing higher volume and revenue sales but also hefty average transaction prices, which is lifting profits and profit margins, to new levels in North America,” said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst with  “Ford is well positioned to close out 2015 strong and charge in 2016.”

The automaker’s global market share at 7.6 percent, up three-tenths of a percentage point from a year ago. Share was up in North America, South America and Europe. After two-straight quarters with no special items, Ford incurred one special item in the third quarter: a gain of $166 million after an aluminum casting supplier in which it invested issued an IPO.

“I think it’s an outstanding quarter,” Shanks said. “We just feel so good about so many aspects.”

Ford posted a best-ever quarter in North America with a pre-tax profit of $2.7 billion. It’s profit margin was 11.3 percent.

The company is finally reaping the rewards of its numerous new vehicle launches from over the past few years, none more important than the retooling of its two truck plants last year for the redesigned F-150. Ford’s profits suffered late last year and early this year as it struggled to build inventory of the popular pickup.

“The F-150 is operating extremely well in the marketplace,” Fields said.

The third quarter marked the first full quarter Ford was at full production of the pickup, and Shanks said the average selling price of its F-Series trucks was up about $2,000. Fields said Ford’s truck retail market share in the quarter climbed above F-150’s pre-changeover levels.

Ford’s North America market share increased six-tenths of a percentage thanks to better availability of the F-150, a groundbreaking vehicle because of its use of aluminum.

Ford also made money last quarter in Asia Pacific, posting a pre-tax profit of $20 million. It lost $163 million in South America, lost $182 million in Europe and lost $15 million in the Middle East and Africa.

Despite the loss in Europe — a trouble spot for years — Ford posted its best third quarter there since 2009. The company has not said when it plans to turn a profit there, although Fields said he’s “confident” it is on track for profitability.

“We’re on our way back, but we have a long way to go before we get to acceptable margins,” Shanks said. “We feel very good about what the team is doing there.”

South America’s results were down from a year ago, but market share improved thanks to a strong performance in Brazil. Ford expects to post a loss there, but estimates it will improve from its loss a year ago.

“We do not see any signs of improvement yet,” Shanks said.

Revenue last quarter in Asia Pacific was unchanged, and the automaker expects full-year pre-tax profit to be higher than 2014.

Ford on Tuesday re-confirmed it expects to post a full-year 2015 pre-tax profit between $8.5 billion and $9.5 billion. It says its North American operating margin will be in the upper half of the 8.5 percent to 9.5 percent range.

GM last week reported third quarter earnings of $1.36 billion, including a record North America pre-tax profit. FCA will release earnings Wednesday.

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