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F-150 pickups drive 3rd quarter earnings: Ford beats expectations

Phoebe Wall Howard, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Automotive News

DETROIT -- Ford announced Thursday a third-quarter profit of $1.6 billion, a 63 percent increase from one year ago.

On a per share basis, the Detroit-area automaker earned 39 cents per share, beating the 33 cents per share average, based on a FactSet survey of Wall Street analysts. That's up from 26 cents per share a year earlier.

Revenue from sales in North America, especially trucks and SUVs, drove the better-than-expected results under the leadership of CEO Jim Hackett, a former office furniture executive who took the helm of Ford in May.

The company is seeing higher profits generated by its F-Series pickups in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. In September, the average F-Series truck sold for $2,300 more than a year ago, or $45,400. Ford is seeing strong demand for the most expensive packages -- Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum -- in the Super Duty trucks and the Raptor performance version.

Ford's revenue worldwide increased 1 percent to $36.5 billion during the third quarter and its pre-tax profit jumped 40 percent to $2 billion.

CFO Bob Shanks said in his morning briefing, "It was a solid quarter, a good quarter. We've seen improvements in growth, profitability and cash flow."

In what analysts are calling a high-profile "second date" with Wall Street investors, CEO Hackett reported having an enormous pile of cash on hand and bigger profits on the nation's most popular pickup truck. The F-150 pickup is a gift that keeps on giving, Hackett said in response to an investor question.

Ford said North America continues to generate most of the profit, posting earnings before taxes of $1.7 billion, up about $400 million, or 33 percent, over the same period last year. Elsewhere, the company posted a pre-tax loss of $86 million in Europe and a profit of $289 million in the Asia Pacific region, more than double its 2016 figure.

The team is "especially happy" with its performance in Australia and India.

Results in South America were a loss of $158 million and a loss of $60 million in the Middle East and Africa.

Ford has faced a series of challenges this year, including shortages of its new Fiesta in Europe, carbon-monoxide issues involving police vehicles, recalls, and a CEO facing Wall Street analysts hungry for specifics related to cost-cutting and strategies related to autonomous vehicle technology and ride-sharing.

Ford said issues that kept the third quarter from being even stronger were higher steel costs, the Brexit vote that split the United Kingdom from Europe and negative impacts tied to currency exchange rates of the sterling, Canadian dollar, Indian rupee, Thai baht and Argentine peso.

Wall Street has failed to reward Ford this year as much as its rivals General Motors and Fiat Chrysler. Over the past three months, Ford and Tesla stock grew 5 percent, while GM stock jumped 26 percent largely because of its perceived leadership in driverless cars and shared mobility. For overall perspective, the S&P 500 gained 4 percent.

"We're freely embracing a revolution," Hackett said on his investor call Thursday. "I can assure you we're committed to transforming our business."

He highlighted driverless technology and partnerships with Lyft and Domino's, noting that pizza is a multibillion-dollar industry.

At the start of this month, Hackett said Ford planned to cut material costs by $10 billion and engineering expenses by $4 billion over five years, shift $7 billion of capital costs from cars to SUVs and trucks, embrace partnerships such as its recently announced alliance with India's Mahindra Group and deliver 13 new electric vehicle models in the next five years.

"This is the second earnings report we're seeing under Jim Hackett. Investors want to see results right way," said Rebecca Lindland, executive analyst at Cox Automotive. "And this is a very positive earnings report."

Analysts throughout the industry question the status of the luxury Lincoln brand, which generates fewer than 5 percent of Ford's U.S. sales.

"Ford, in some capacity, is handicapped by the fact that it has only Ford and Lincoln while other car companies have many more brands," Lindland said. "Ford has got to get to work on making Lincoln relevant."

A unique strength for Ford, she added, is that its buyers are among the most "domestically partisan" owners in the world, with some 90 percent identifying as loyal to American brands.

Shanks said there are "enormous" opportunities in China with upcoming products.

The company's message to Wall Street is clear and simple.

"This is a company that has delivered value and created value over the last 70 years," Shanks said. "We've given back, by the end of this year, over $15 billion to shareholders. We have delivered good performance consistently in a world that has been quite dynamic."

(c)2017 Detroit Free Press

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