Ford pension reporting change boosts profit-sharing

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

Dearborn — Ford Motor Co. said Thursday it opted to change how it reports or accounts for pensions on Dec. 31 of last year, resulting in a $1.5 billion gain to its 2015 full year earnings pre-tax profit.

The switch will put at least another $709 into the pockets of each of Ford’s 52,900 U.S. hourly workers as part of profit-sharing checks early this year. Salaried workers who receive bonuses, excluding corporate officers, also will benefit.

Profit-sharing checks will be distributed in February or March. Ford hourly workers got $6,900 in profit sharing last year.

With the accounting change, Ford company now expects to earn between $10 billion and $11 billion for 2015, excluding special items. Ford had previously said it expected to earn $8.5 billion to $9.5 billion in 2015.

“The change we are announcing today in how we report accumulated costs related to our pension and OPEB (other post-retirement employee benefits) plans will show that our operating results were even stronger, particularly in North America and Europe,” said Bob Shanks, Ford’s chief financial officer.

As a result, Ford is revising its financial results back to 2011. For the first nine months of 2015, Ford says it posted pre-tax profits of $8.36 billion, up $1.22 billion.

North America pre-tax profits for the same time period improved by $709 million to $7.32 billion. The company’s profit-sharing formula for hourly workers pays $1,000 for every $1 billion in pre-tax profit earned.

The final amount will be determined by Ford’s full 2015 North American pre-tax earnings. Ford is scheduled to report fourth quarter and full-year 2015 results on Jan. 28.

Ford also increased its pre-tax results by $509 million in Europe in the first nine months of 2015. It says its pre-tax profit is now $128 million.

Ford said it had been studying the change to mark-to-market pension and other post-retirement employee benefits for five years. It gives the company greater transparency of its operating results, the automaker says. It also helps to better compare Ford with key automotive competitors and follows the practices of many international companies.

“The effect of this change will be to remove amortization of prior periods, gains or losses, from the past operating results,” said Stuart Rowley, Ford vice president and controller. “The effect of this will be to provide a greater transparency to our business units’ operating results, and also make our reported results more comparable with automotive competitor OEMs.”

The move also increases Ford’s North America operating margin — its operating earnings or income divided by revenue — for the first nine months of 2015 by 1 percentage point to 10.9 percent. The company’s total automotive operating margin goes up by 1.2 percentage points to 7.1 percent for the same time period.

Dozens of large U.S. corporations have adopted mark-to-market, which is defined as an immediate recognition accounting because companies including now Ford recognize pension gains and losses in the years they happen instead of amortizing them over many years. Including the fourth quarter in 2015, Ford will record any change to pensions as a special item associated with corporate profits instead of in Ford’s automotive business units.

Ford is believed to be the first of the Detroit Three automakers to use the methodology, said Stacey Steslicki, Ford’s controller of global retirement benefits.

There is no change or impact to employee pensions, on cash funding, or on pension funding status with the new reporting method, Rowley said.

Ford stock closed down 3.1 percent Thursday to $12.70 a share.