Ford projects good year despite ’16 drop

Melissa Burden, and Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Dearborn — Ford Motor Co. on Thursday reported net income that dropped 38 percent due largely to an accounting change related to pension obligations, but its CEO reiterated the automaker expects a strong 2017, though profits likely will fall slightly as it makes investments in emerging businesses.

Ford’s 2016 net income totaled $4.6 billion, due largely to a $2 billion impact because of an accounting change involving the way the company now measures pension obligations. The Dearborn automaker, however, reported adjusted pre-tax income of $10.4 billion for the year, $200 million higher than its previous guidance, and the second best year since 2000.

“We're making substantial progress on expanding our business, and that’s really going from a strong, healthy automotive company, to one that will be even stronger and bigger as we expand to an auto and a mobility company in the future,” President and CEO Mark Fields told analysts Thursday.

The strong 2016 results in North America means more money in the pockets of some Ford employees. Ford reported Thursday its more than 56,000 United Auto Workers hourly workers would get about $9,000 fromprofit sharing.

Profit sharing is determined by the automaker’s adjusted pre-tax North American profits, which totaled $9 billion in 2016, down $344 million from a year ago.

Ford’s 2017 projections come amid uncertainty just days after Fields spent two days in Washington, D.C., with other business and automotive leaders meeting with President Donald Trump.

Fields was optimistic about Trump’s presidency when speaking Thursday to analysts and reporters on a call.

“I think he’s going to be very focused on driving policies that drive investment and job creation in American manufacturing and in automotive manufacturing. I think that’s going to be a big priority,” Fields said.

General Motors Co. Chairman and CEO Mary Barra, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV CEO Sergio Marchionne and Fields talked with Trump on Tuesday about tax reform and what could help the companies add jobs in the U.S.

Trump asked specifically what things are “inhibitors” in terms of growth for the companies, Fields said.

“We talked about regulations ... we talked about the finalized rule making that was pushed through at the end of the year on the fuel economy, one national standard, which really was a decision that we felt was premature and inconsistent with the promised data driven approach,” he said. “We may see some actions on that, which could be positive for our business, but my impression walking away is that this is a president who's going to be focused on a number of important priorities, and makes sure that he makes progress on them ... ”

For now, the company is waiting to see which parts of Trump’s tax blueprint will be made law, Fields said.

Ford’s fourth-quarter net income was a loss of $783 million, down $2.65 billion from the 2015 quarter, largely due to the pension accounting change and a $200 million special charge related to canceling its planned new Mexico assembly plant that was to be the home of the Ford Focus.

In 2015, Ford posted $7.4 billion in net income, including $1.9 billion in the fourth quarter and a record $10.8 billion pre-tax profit before special items.

The company lost 20 cents a share in the fourth quarter. And when factoring for special charges during the quarter, Ford would have earned 30 cents a share.

During the fourth quarter, Ford also took a $200 million special charge related to canceling its planned new Mexico assembly plant. Ford Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks said the charge included returning the land to its “natural state” and paying the government for costs it had spent to put infrastructure in the site.

Revenue for the year totaled $151.8 billion, up $2.2 billion. Fourth-quarter revenue totaled $38.7 billion, down $1.6 billion from the same quarter in 2015.

Ford said its wholesale production volume in the fourth quarter totaled 1.7 million, down 68,000 units from the same months in 2015, because the company a year ago was building inventory for some launches, which comparably had an “unfavorable effect,” according to Shanks.

Shanks said Ford expects to have about 39,000 less wholesale units or inventory in the first quarter of this year in North America compared to the 2016 quarter.

North America revenue for Ford reached $96.2 billion, up $700 million.

The company also had a record year in Europe, posting adjusted pre-tax earnings of $1.2 billion, up by $946 million from 2015. The company’s Asia Pacific region posted a adjusted pre-tax profit of $627 million, down $138 million from 2015, but the second best regional results for the company.

In 2016, Ford had pre-tax losses in South America of $1.1 billion, down $277 million, and losses of $302 million in the Middle East and Africa, down $333 million. Its financial services arm, Ford Credit, earned $1.82 billion in adjusted pre-tax profit for the year, down $208 million as the company saw some decline in used car auction pricing, Shanks said.

In the fourth quarter, Ford North America made $1.96 billion in adjusted pre-tax profit, down $73 million from a year ago. Ford South America lost $293 million adjusted pre-tax in the fourth quarter, with the Middle East and Africa losing $71 million. Europe posted a $166 million pre-tax profit, Asia Pacific, $284 million and Ford Credit earned $384 million.

The company in October lowered 2016 earnings expectations from $10.8 billion pre-tax to $10.2 billion due to a $600 million door latch recall.

The automaker’s stock closed Thursday at $12.38 a share, down 3.2 percent.

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