Why Ford Earnings Disappointed Investors

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Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) reported fourth-quarter and full-year 2017 results after markets closed Wednesday. For the quarter, the automaker posted adjusted diluted earnings per share (EPS) of $0.39 on revenues of $41.3 billion. In the same period a year ago, the company reported EPS of $0.30 on revenues of $38.7 billion. Analysts were looking for EPS of $0.43 and revenues of $36.3 billion.

For the full year, Ford posted adjusted EPS of $1.78, up from $1.76 a year ago, on revenues of $156.8 billion, up from $151.8 billion in 2016.

Adjusted pretax profit rose fell 19%, from $2.1 billion in the fourth quarter of 2017 to $1.7 billion. Higher adjusted EPS was attributed to favorable tax planning.

Average transaction prices rose by $3,200 year over year in 2017 on the company’s best-selling F-Series pickups, and Ford said year-over-year transaction prices rose by $1,300 for the year, more than twice the industry average.

CEO Jim Hackett said:

In 2017, we made tremendous progress in laying the foundation for our strategy — smart vehicles for a smart world — from accelerating our connected vehicles plans to expanding our AV and EV work. As we move into 2018, we are intensely focused on improving the operational fitness of our business to deliver strong results while continuing to build toward our vision of the future.

By “fitness” Hackett means moving Ford’s global profit margin nearer 8% than its current 5% by better managing swings in commodity costs and currency exchange rates. The company is getting some help from the weak dollar policies of the Trump administration.

Automotive revenues totaled $38.5 billion for the quarter, up by $2.5 billion year over year, but operating margin slipped by two percentage points to 3.7%. Pretax profit fell by $600 million to $1.4 billion. Ford attributed the declines to higher commodity costs and expenses to support the launch of new models of the Ford Expedition and the Lincoln Navigator.

North American fourth-quarter sales totaled 739,000 units and revenues came to $24.1 billion. Ford said it had 13.7% of the North American market, up 0.6 points from last year. Operating margin dipped by 1.7 points to 6.8%.

Ford intends to launch 23 products globally in 2018 and to post adjusted EPS of $1.45 to $1.70 for the full year. The company estimates an effective tax rate of 15% in 2018.

The consensus analysts’ estimate for first-quarter 2018 EPS is $0.44 on revenues of $37.49 billion. For the full year, the consensus estimates call for $1.62 in EPS and revenues of $143.85 billion.

Ford’s shares traded down about 1.4% in Thursday’s premarket at $11.92, after closing at $12.05 on Wednesday, in a 52-week range of $10.47 to $13.48. The consensus 12-month price target on the stock was $12.58 before last night’s report.