Ford earns $7.4B in 2015, posts record profit

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. on Thursday said it earned $7.4 billion in 2015, including $1.9 billion in the fourth quarter.

The Dearborn automaker reported a record $10.8 billion pre-tax profit, before special items. In North America, Ford earned a full-year pre-tax profit of $9.3 billion, up $1.9 billion from a year ago. That will lead to a record $9,300 in profit sharing for the automaker’s UAW members, although $1,500 of that amount has already been paid out.

Ford posted a full-year revenue of $149.6 billion and a full-year automotive operating margin of 6.8 percent. Ford posted a fourth-quarter earnings per share of 58 cents, and a full-year earnings per share of $1.88 per, with both numbers beating the consensus.

Ford’s earnings were driven by North America, where it earned a full-year operating margin of 10.2 percent, but the automaker was profitable in all of its business units except South America. That includes a record profit in Asia Pacific and a return to profitability in Europe, where it hasn’t turned a profit since 2011. Ford’s global market share increased by two-tenths of a percentage point.

“The whole year came in better than we were expecting,” Ford’s Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks said. “We really started to see the international operations come forward.”

Despite that, Ford’s stock fell sharply in early trading, down 4.8 percent to $11.28 a share shortly after 10 a.m.

Ford President and CEO Mark Fields said the automaker delivered on its promise for a breakthrough year, and it expects a strong 2016.

“In 2016, we will continue to build on our strengths and accelerate our pace of progress even further, while transforming Ford into both an auto and a mobility company and creating value for all of our stakeholders,” Fields said in a statement.

Fields has said Ford expects an operating margin of 9.5 percent or higher for North America and profitability in all business units except South America, where it expects a greater loss than in 2015. Results for Europe and Asia Pacific are expected to improve over 2015 and results for the Middle East and Africa are expected to be about equal to or more than last year. Ford Credit’s pre-tax profit is expected to be equal to or more than it was in 2015.

Ford’s North America business unit included a record fourth quarter of $2.03 billion and an operating margin of 8.2 percent. Its full-year profit margin of 10.2 percent represented the third time in four years that Ford recorded margins over 10 percent. The fourth quarter included the loss of about $600 million in one-time charges related to the automaker’s new contract with the UAW, Shanks said.

Shanks said he still expects a strong 2016 for North America, but the profit margin could be as low as 9.5 percent since it’s coming off a very strong 2015 and will have downtime and added costs associated with the launch of its new Super Duty truck.

Ford struggled in South America, losing $832 million there for the full year due to a continued deterioration in the business environment. Shanks said Ford expects the economy will continue to contract, and that Brazil could be headed into a depression.

The carmaker returned to profitability for the first time in four years in Europe, where it made $259 million. Ford said volume was up 10 percent there, and Fields said he can foresee profit margins of between 6-8 percent. This year, the margin was 0.9 percent.

"We’re pleased with our progress in Europe but not satisfied,” Fields said. “Getting profitable is just the first step.”

Ford made $31 million in the Middle East and Africa and a record $765 million in Asia Pacific, up 29 percent from a year ago, due in large part to a strong fourth quarter in China.

Ford announced in January that it’s switching how it accounts for pensions, 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.

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.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles on Wednesday reported a profit of 377 million euros (about $410 million) for 2015, a substantial decrease from 632 million euros from the previous year due to recall and investment costs. General Motors Co. will release its earnings next week.

FCA also announced Wednesday that it’s ending production of its Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200 passenger cars to focus on its Ram and Jeep brands. Fields said Ford has no plans to announce regarding its own car production, but said the automaker will continue to adjust capacity to meet demand and is open to “all opportunities” with car production.

“We’re always looking to be as efficient as possible,” Fields said. “We believe very strongly it’s important to have a balanced portfolio. As we go forward, we’re going to be very focused on this. We’re always open to talking with others. We have to be very realistic around what is the revenue these vehicles can command.”

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