Earnings Preview: On a Roll, Ford to Report Upbeat Fourth-Quarter Results

It may be a tired pun, but when it comes to one Detroit auto maker it couldn't be truer: Ford Motor (F) is on a roll. Though it saw yearly sales fall 15% in 2009 compared to the previous year, Ford did report a 33% surge in monthly sales last month, typically one of the slowest of the year.Ford credited the uptick to a restructuring plan that is producing positive results within the company and churning out products that customers want, like its newly redesigned Ford Fusion sedan. Not only a hit with consumers, Ford cars and trucks appeal to industry insiders as well. The hybrid Fusion sedan took the "car of the year" award at the recent North American International Auto Show in Detroit, while its Ford Transit Connect van took truck of the year -- only the third time in the awards' history that one company has taken both honors.

Compared to other manufacturers, Ford is in an enviable position. After posting its first profit in nearly a year last fall, the Dearborn, Mich.-based company is expected to report earnings Thursday of 26 cents a share, according to a consensus estimate complied by iStockAnalyst. That number has been revised upward in recent weeks, with analysts attributing their optimism to a favorable business environment that continued into the fourth quarter.

Overall, fourth quarter production is expected to be up compared with a year ago and third quarter 2009 levels. This increase is to return to planned dealer stock levels and match productions with market demand for the company's products. However, revenues could be affected by currency translation and margins could be affected by the surge in commodity prices.

Wall Street is bullish on Ford, too. Though the company's stock is down from its highs earlier this month -- as with many U.S. stocks -- shares have surged 58% during the last three months, based on Wednesday's closing price of $11.55 a share. By contrast, shares of Toyota Motor (TM), the only other publicly traded auto maker in Ford's league, were up less than 1% during the last three months.

Toyota shares fell more than 8% Wednesday after the company said it would halt production and sales of eight popular models due to unintended acceleration problems. The announcement followed last week's recall of 2.3 million cars to fix the same problem, threatening to do long-term damage to Toyota's once unassailable record for building quality automobiles.

Not faced with the quality issues that now dog Toyota nor the stigma General Motors and Chrysler Group face in having taken federal bailout funds, Ford is in a unique position to gain market share. In the third quarter, Ford's total U.S. total market share stood at 14.6%, up 2.2 percentage points from a year ago but down 1.8 points from the second quarter of 2009, according to iStockAnalyst.com

Ford markets cars and trucks under Ford, Mercury, Lincoln and Volvo nameplates, although Ford's divestiture of Volvo is all but a done deal. The company expects to complete the deal to offload the Swedish luxury car unit to China's Zhejiang Geely Group for some $2 billion in the second quarter. Ford is expected to provide an update on the progress of that deal during its quarterly earnings conference call on Thursday.
Read Full Story