Bill Ford’s Dreams Hit Another Wall

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There has been one management constant at Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) since 1999. William Clay Ford Jr. has been the board chair for the entire period, representing the interests of the family that controls the company. Over the course of a bumpy ride, he has been the company’s biggest cheerleader. The most recent news from Ford has somewhat eroded the basis for his optimism. Ford’s 2018 earnings will be poor, at least as measured against Wall Street’s yardstick.

The news also undermines excitement about the short-term success of James Patrick “Jim” Hackett, Ford’s president and chief executive officer since May. Hackett is supposed to be the “change agent” who will lead Ford into a future of electric cars, self-driving vehicles and a global lineup of vehicles that will take market share from the world’s other large manufacturers.

It is ironic that the poor earnings forecast comes on the heels of a number of Ford forward-looking announcements at the North American International Auto Show, held in Detroit, which is also where Ford is headquartered.

Ford management put out a press release that covered Ford’s future product and geographic sales plans. A little further down the release, Ford covered 2017 earnings and its dividend. And, at the very bottom of the release, it registered the bad news:

For 2018, the company is guiding to an adjusted EPS in the range of $1.45 to $1.70. This guidance reflects higher commodity costs and further adverse exchange, offset in varying degrees by actions the company is taking to mitigate their effect.

Ford has had five CEOs since Bill Ford became board chair. This includes him, as he was CEO from October 30, 2001, to September 5, 2006. When he left that role, he took the title of executive chairman. He became impatient with two other CEOs on the list: Jacques Nasser, who was CEO from 1999 to 2001, and more recently Mark Fields, who took the job in 2014 and was unexpectedly pushed out last May.

The primary criticism of Bill Ford is that as he has described the company’s bright future time and again, and he recently helped launch a vision of company’s new products and rosy outlook at the auto show. But Ford’s stock has fallen 65% since he took the chairman’s job, while the S&P 500 has risen 115%. Shares dropped another 6% on the bad news to $12.30.

Bill Ford rarely makes a public appearance without his opinions about the auto industry and Ford’s growing importance in it. When it comes to Ford’s performance, he has some explaining to do.

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