Ford shares jump in after-hours trading on earnings beat

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News
Ford Motor Co. profits slid 34% in the first quarter. The company has been restructuring globally under CEO Jim Hackett.

Dearborn — Ford Motor Co. beat expectations with its first-quarter results despite one-time charges associated with the company's global restructuring — and company executives said there'd be more strong results to come this year.

Profits slid 34% in the first quarter. But results for the quarter were better than expected, according to Ford Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks, saying they show CEO Jim Hackett's changes at the automaker are taking effect. Ford shares were trading up more than 7% in after-hours trading on the news.

On Twitter, investor and markets commentator Jim Cramer said: "Ford, Yes! Big Upside Surprise!! Nailed!"

The earnings beat came just in time for Hackett, who's been pressured in recent months to give investors evidence that he was delivering change at the 115-year-old automaker. Hackett told The Detroit News in early April that the stock price is a result of the right methods. He told investors Thursday the results are proof that his push to cut costs and improve profitability around the globe is working.

"We have a solid plan to create value in the near term and the long term," Hackett said. "We believe we're gaining credibility. The results clearly demonstrate the benefit of our fitness actions. There's more to come there."

Ford made $1.1 billion on $40.3 billion in revenue, which slid 4% in the first quarter. The company reported its adjusted earnings before interest and taxes rose $300 million to $2.4 billion. The profit slide came largely from global restructuring efforts, Shanks said. The automaker took $600 million in charges for exiting the heavy-truck business in South America and its restructure in Russia and Europe. 

It beat analyst estimates of 27 cents earnings per share. The automaker reported 29 cents earnings per share, and 44 cents earnings per share adjusted.

"We feel very encouraged by the strong start to the year," Shanks said. "If you do the right things, you make the tough calls, you allocate capital the right way, you be mindful of your costs, you think about your customers ... you get it right, it does take time, but goodness comes from that. I do think that we're starting to see signs of that."

Ford saw stronger profits in North America due to its decision to kill sedans and small cars in that market just a year ago, Shanks said, saving Ford "hundreds of millions of dollars." Ford's North American business reported a $2.2 billion profit, up 14% compared to a year ago. The automaker also reported its North American business had a 8.7% operating margin. Ford executives are targeting a 10% margin in North America, and 8% in other business around the world.

The automaker achieved those results despite slipping wholesales around the world. Ford credits the portfolio shift to larger, more profitable vehicles for that.

Meantime, Ford was profitable in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and its Asia Pacific Operations. It lost money in China and South America. The automaker reported a $57 million profit in Europe, and lessened losses to $128 million in China, a 15% improvement compared to a year ago.

Shanks said Ford expects to pay out $2.6 billion to shareholders this year. Most of that is the company's regular dividend payment, which some speculated Ford wouldn't be able to afford in 2019. Shanks added that Ford this year will incur $3 billion to $3.5 billion of the $11 billion in one-time charges associated with restructuring that the automaker expects through 2023. 

The results come after Ford profits slid 50% in 2018. Hackett, appointed CEO in May 2017, has spent nearly two years shuffling the deck and quietly cutting costs inside the Dearborn automaker. Since the start of the year, Ford has announced jobs cuts, plant closures or product changes in South America, Europe, Russia and China, as well as partnerships with major players outside the U.S. that have pushed stock prices up nearly 20% year-to-date.

Ford shares are still down around 10% since Hackett was appointed CEO two years ago.

Shanks said Ford expects 2019 profits will be better than those the company reported in 2018, though he declined to give specifics. He said the first quarter results would be the strongest for the year at Ford as the company begins to launch a slew of new vehicles starting in the middle of the year. 

Shanks said new vehicles like the Ranger midsize pickup that launched in January are already profitable. 

Hackett has repeated recently that 2019 will be a year of action at Ford. The automaker announced Wednesday it would invest $500 million in Plymouth-based electric vehicle startup Rivian Automotive LLC and partner with the company to build an unnamed electric vehicle. That move came just weeks after Bloomberg reported Rivian's partnership discussions with General Motors Co. had crumbled. 

Meantime, Ford is nearing the end of a months-long process to trim its global salaried workforce, which will include salaried job cuts in North America. The automaker plans to wrap those cuts by the end of the second quarter. 

Analysts had forecast that Ford's first-quarter results could be its most important in years. First, because better-than-expected results could show evidence that Hackett's plan for the company is working. Hackett is pushing Ford to trim $25.5 billion in operational costs. The automaker also plans to spend $11 billion to restructure the company around the world.

Shanks said Thursday that Hackett and the Ford executive team's decisions over the last two years are starting to show results inside Ford. Those results are also beginning to show up on the balance sheet, he said.

"(This) is not a restructuring," Shanks said. "It is a reimagination, a rethinking of what this business is and will be in the future. This is going to be a different business. Not just fewer plants, or this or that, or the normal stuff. This is going to be a different business."

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau