Ford’s third-quarter earnings report is a classic test of whether you want to view the glass as half-empty or half-full.
The maker recently warned that it would deliver a substantially lower profits due to problems in Europe and other markets, as well as having to cover the cost of a big recall. And, indeed, earnings for the July to September period plunged sharply, from $1.3 billion a year ago to just $835 million.
The pre-tax profit, at $1.2 billion, was off from a year-earlier $2.6 billion. But at 24 cents a share, that nonetheless managed to beat the 19-cent consensus estimate, according to analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.
Ford CEO Mark Fields focused on the positive side, billing the recent quarter as a period of building for the future. “During the third quarter we continued to introduce an unprecedented number of new vehicles and invest heavily in the new products,” he said in a prepared release.
Ford missed the consensus forecast on one key front, revenues falling 0.9%, to $35 billion. That decline came from virtually every region in which Ford operated.
The maker sent investors scurrying to sell off its shares when it warned that earnings would likely fall from $8 billion in 2013 to just $6 billion for all of this year due to problems in Europe – which will take longer to turn around than expected – and Latin America. The maker also doubled its anticipated bill for recall-related expenses due to two huge recent airbag service actions.
The European market generated another $439 million in losses in Europe for the quarter, double the deficit during the third quarter of 2013. Part of the problem is a sudden recession in sanction-hit Russia which is expected to see that country’s auto sales drop by a third this year.
Ford is also having serious issues in South America where Brazil and other markets are struggling. The maker earned $159 million in the region during the July – September quarter last year but posted a $170 million deficit this time.
The North American market was the bulwark of Ford’s latest earnings report, generating a $1.4 billion pre-tax profit. But even at home, the second-largest Detroit maker saw its profit margin slip to 7.1%, the lowest figure in some years.
Ford has been hoping to turn Asia into another balance sheet powerhouse, and it has scored some impressive sales and market share gains in China this year. Even so, earnings for the region fell from $116 million to just $44 million, year-over-year.
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Ford shares have tumbled in recent weeks, despite a modest upturn on Thursday. At $14.40, they are down from a 52-week high of $18.12.
Among the concerns investors have cited, there have been warnings from analysts such as Morgan Stanley’s Adam Jonas that Ford could be hard-pressed to meet expectations when it begins selling its all-new 2015 F-150 pickup this year.
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The nation’s best-selling truck, it is migrating from steel to a new, lightweight “aluminum-intensive” body that should shave as much as 750 pounds of mass and yield a significant improvement in fuel economy. But there are questions about whether Ford can deliver the trucks as quickly as needed, and with the quality the market expects.
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“Ford placed a huge bet on its redesign and the outcome of that bet may be unknown for a while,” cautioned Eric Ibara, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book’s KBB.com.
Ford has a record number of launches taking place around the world this year, including an all-new version of the Mustang – which will be sold globally for the first time – and the European Mondeo sedan. It needs to score solid hits, if not home runs, with these products to get its balance sheet back up to the level investors are expecting.