Investors Not Impressed With Ford Outlook

Paul Ausick

2014 F-150
Source: Courtesy Ford Motor Co.
All the cheerful news aside, the one comparison that stands out in the outlook that Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) released Wednesday morning is the drop in expected pretax profit. For 2013, Ford expects to post a profit of $8.5 billion, compared with a profit in the range of $7 billion to $8 billion in 2014. The 2013 estimate was expected and has already been priced into the stock. The 2014 drop was not expected, and that is what pounded the share price Wednesday morning.

Ford said it expects to introduce 23 new cars next year, more than double the 11 new cars launched this year. Those launches cost money, and that is the likely cause for much of the forecast profit decline.

In North America, the company plans to introduce 16 new cars in 2014, triple the number of introductions in 2013. That will have a significant impact on wholesale volumes as old models are cleared out to make way for new models. That also will affect pricing, because Ford will have to lower prices to clear out the older models. In addition, the company expects a very competitive pricing environment for small and medium-size cars and utility vehicles related to the weaker Japanese yen. The company’s CFO said, “The payoff for North America from the 2014 launches and investments we incur for future periods will be a stronger product lineup and volume and revenue opportunities into 2015 and beyond.”

Ford expects its North American operating margin to be in the range of 8% to 9%, compared with an operating margin for 2013 in the range of 9.5% to 10%.

Total U.S. car sales for 2014 from all makers is projected at 16 million to 17 million units, about in line with overall expectations and higher than the company’s estimate of 15.9 million units in 2013. Sales in Europe this year are now forecast at 13.7 million units for 2013 and in the range of 13.5 million to 14.5 million units next year. Chinese sales are expected to reach 21.9 million units in 2013 and 22.5 million to 24.5 million units in 2014.

Ford’s 2013 market share in the United States is on track to be higher than 2012’s 15.2%. At the end of the third quarter, the company’s share totaled 15.8%. Its market share in Europe is anticipated to be about 7.9%, and China’s share is expected to be higher than last year’s 3.2%. The company’s Focus was the best-selling car in China in November, and Ford has increased its market share in China by nearly 70% through the first three-quarters of 2013.

Ford lags well behind General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) in sales in China. GM expects to sell more than 3 million vehicles in China this year, about 13.7% of total Chinese sales. Ford cannot afford to continue lagging in what is now the world’s single largest market for new cars. The company knows this and is investing heavily in Chinese manufacturing facilities.

Both Honda Motor Co. Ltd. (NYSE: HMC) and Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM) are also poised for record sales in China for 2013, but both companies trailed GM and Volkswagen in getting into China, and sales numbers remain small. All told, Japanese automakers have watched their market share in China drop from 25% in 2008 to 15% in the first half of 2013.

Ford’s outlook weighed on shares of GM Wednesday morning, pushing them down about 3.4% to $40.18. The 52-week range is $26.19 to $41.85.

Toyota stock was up 0.8%, at $119.60 in a 52-week range of $90.15 to $134.94, and Honda shares were up about 2.5%, at $40.93 in a 52-week range of $35.15 to $42.96.

Ford’s stock was down 7.5%, at $15.45 in a 52-week range of $11.47 to $18.02.