Ford Motor Co. is a small step away from achieving one of CEO Alan Mulally’s key goals after the maker received another upgrade in its debt rating from Moody’s Investors Service – the agency also giving an upgrade to industry giant General Motors Corp.
Both makers are now rated at “Ba1,” which is for Mulally one step from seeing Ford regain the investment grade rating it lost in 2005 as its finances began to implode. Getting the next upgrade would provide a halo for Ford’s stock, which has taken some sharp blows over recent months – but it would also reduce the maker’s borrowing costs substantially.
The upgrade by Moody’s follows similar actions by its rivals Standard & Poor’s and Fitch, earlier this month. All three ratings agencies cited the improved financials for both Ford and GM, as well as the latest contracts the makers have negotiated with the United Auto Workers Union.
Ford President Mark Fields said last week that the maker will experience only a modest initial increase in its labor costs as a result of the agreement. And Ford believes that over the life of the 4-year settlement its costs will actually decline. GM has been similarly upbeat, noting that while the UAW won substantial bonuses for its members it also accepted contract language that should yield significant improvements in productivity.
There are currently 48,500 UAW workers at GM, 41,000 at Ford. But both companies plan to add thousands of new union jobs under the new contracts.
In re-rating GM, Moody’s noted the maker’s strong position in China, now the world’s largest national automotive market. But the agency also cautioned that both automakers are vulnerable to a potential double-dip recession.
The agency has assigned a “positive outlook” to both makers, which means it will consider a further upgrade in the near to mid-term.
General Motors could signal how things will go when it releases its third-quarter earnings on Nov. 9. The maker earned $5.4 billion during the first half of this year, following a $4.7 billion profit for all of 2010.
Ford, meanwhile, reported a 2% decline in third-quarter earnings, earlier this week, but still came in with $1.6 billion in net profits.
The maker followed that news by confirming it is studying the idea of reviving its dividend payment, a move that could be announced within the next several months.
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