It wasn’t long ago that Ford Motor Co. executives were being lauded for having faith in their recovery plan, which included offering the Blue Oval as collateral, and enjoying the full support of the financial community.
That was then. This is now: Moody’s Investor Service downgraded Ford from Baa2 to Baa3, which is one step above a junk rating.
In announcing the move, Moody’s noted the “erosion in the company’s global business position and the challenges it will face implementing its Fitness Redesign program.” The Fitness Redesign program is Ford’s $11 billion, five-year plan to revitalize the company.
“The Fitness program is a necessity, but it will take several years for material financial and operating benefits of the program to be realized,” Moody’s said in its report announced the move.
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“Success could be challenged by having to address the serious performance problems in multiple business units simultaneously. At the same time, Ford will have to continue investing in the areas critical for the future of the auto industry. These areas include alternative propulsion, autonomous driving, ride sharing and connectivity.”
In response, Ford officials noted the company’s long history of profitability and “strong balance sheet.” They expect to execute the Fitness plan and believe that only strong results over an extended period of time will sway the investor community.
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“The company has a strong balance sheet, which provides financial flexibility,” spokesman Brad Carroll said. “We know we can capitalize on our strengths, bolster underperforming products and regions and disposition where we cannot make an appropriate return. We’re confident that as we do, the market will recognize our progress.”
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Moody’s called the likelihood of an upgrade to Ford’s rating through 2020 “very modest.” The report also noted that it could fall to junk status “absent clear progress in pursuing the Fitness initiatives by early to mid-2019, with evidence that the company is on a strong trajectory for recovery.”
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The automaker is in the process of a massive reorganization, cutting $25.5 billion from its engineering and other cost centers. The transformation includes a massive realignment of its product offerings, moving out of cars and exclusively into trucks, crossovers and utilities.