Ford Motor Co.’s (NYSE: F) plans to remain competitive within the global automotive industry have turned investor sentiment from skepticism to anxiety. Its shares are down 17% this year while the S&P 500 is off 3% and General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) is flat. As a matter of fact, none of the 30 Dow Jones industrials components is off as much (Ford is not a member of the index.) This included the brutalized shares of imploding General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE).
A large number of investors believe that Bill Ford’s choice to make James Hackett CEO last May was a poor one. Ford is the executive chairman of the company and, via the voting share structure of the Ford family, runs it. He threw out Mark Fields a CEO when he promoted Hackett. Fields was the protege of the man who may be have been the best CEO in Ford history — Alan Mulally. Bill Ford likely wishes he could have Mulally back, but perhaps would settle for Fields.
Hackett’s only previous job as head of a large company was at Steelcase from 1994 to 2014, where he is best remembered for firing approximately 12,000 people. Hackett ran Ford’s Ford Smart Mobility, which leads Ford’s efforts in the self-driving and ride-sharing businesses. Since that initiative has not been very successful, it is a wonder Hackett was promoted.
Ford’s U.S. problems are well known, and the company has struggled in the world’s largest car market — China. Ford has too many car models in the United States and too few crossovers and sport utility vehicles. Its Lincoln luxury car division is among the least successful mainline luxury car lines in the United States, which means it has no way to compete with the very successful Mercedes, BMW and Lexus brands.
Ford’s sales in China dropped 18% in January compared to the same month last year. The company sold 75,990 vehicles, well behind the market leaders. No reason was given when Ford China CEO Jason Luo left after only five months on the job.
Hackett gave investors his vision of Ford in October. It was less than what many people who follow the car industry expected. He will invest to expand into new-age car technology, cut costs, expand into China, build more electric cars and shrink the company’s model lineup. Wall Street has heard these things before in different versions. However, investors know Hackett is already behind the curve on most of his goals, compared to his largest competitors.
In the most recently reported period, which was ahead of last week’s market correction, short sellers already were piling on Ford shares, driving the short interest up nearly 22% to more than 139.2 million shares.
Ford’s shares are in a nosedive, and there is no reason to believe that will change soon.