Is Ford Junk?

There are many reasons to doubt the turnaround plans of Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) CEO Jim Hackett. Ford U.S. sales have stagnated. Sales in China, the world’s largest car markets, have cratered. Hackett’s vision to make Ford into an electric and autonomous car global leader are unimpressive and undistinguished from programs of any of the world’s other global car manufacturers. Moody’s downgraded Ford’s debt to “junk” status for these reasons and some other convincing ones.

The Moody’s action was to downgrade Ford’s debt from Ba1 from Baa3. It called Hackett’s restructuring plan lengthy and costly. Moody’s also said the plan will need to be executed at a point when the results of the worldwide industry are softening.

Behind the rating is the fact that Hackett has stumbled. His restructuring plan involves $11 billion in investments in the next generation of electric and self-driving cars. This means Ford will need to launch 40 electrified vehicles by 2022. Hackett will cut $14 billion in costs over approximately the same period. He made this announcement in January 2018. There has been barely any movement since then that would hint the plans are well underway. Hackett has announced the layoffs of several thousand workers.

Hackett does not expect to go it alone. He has announced a series of loose joint ventures with Volkswagen, the world’s largest car company. The alliance is meant to be a cooperation on commercial vehicles and, more ambitiously, electric and autonomous cars. Ford, for example, will use the VW electric car platform in Europe. The deal was long on public relations and light on detail. It also failed to mention that the two companies are brutal competitors, which means the cooperation will only go so far. Ford also must compete for this technology with every other carmaker in the world and a number of smaller tech startups, some of which are well funded, like Google’s Waymo.

Among Ford’s other problems is that its current lineup of cars and light trucks is aged. If electric vehicle and autonomous vehicle adoption is not as rapid as Ford believes, it will be stuck without a new series of vehicles to compete in the traditional car business. Under those circumstances, Ford will be in a vice it cannot escape. Ironically, the car industry is based very heavily on consumer perceptions. Ford does well compared to other major brands in the industry.

One sure sign of skepticism about Ford’s prospects is its stock price is down 18% in the past two years. Over the same period, GM’s shares are up 3% and the S&P 500 is 19% higher.

There are no major outside indications Ford is on the right track. Moody’s new report only makes that more obvious.

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