Why Is Ford Stock Stuck in Neutral?

Ford's world headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan. Photo credit: Ford Motor Co.

It's had a turnaround that will be taught in business schools for decades to come.

It has had 15 straight profitable quarters since the dark days of the economic crisis.

It has plenty of money in the bank and it just boosted its dividend.

It even had the world's best-selling car last year.

But Ford stock still seems stuck in neutral. What's going on?

Ford's stock growth lags nearly everybody's
Ford's stock opened the year at $13.23 - and closed last Friday at $14.11. That's a paltry 6.6% gain, way behind the 16.6% gain posted by the benchmark S&P 500 Index this year.

It's also behind a whole bunch of other automakers. Through last Friday, Nissan is up 9.5%, Toyota is up 28%, and Subaru's parent company Fuji Heavy Industries is up a huge 70% this year. (I probably shouldn't even mention electric-car maker Tesla Motors , which has more than doubled.)

Even General Motors is up about 7% since the beginning of January.

Yep, check my numbers. Despite smaller profits and bigger challenges, even GM's stock has beaten Ford stock.

So what's the deal?

Plenty of analysts (including your humble Fool) agree that Ford seems like a great buy. Growth in Asia and restructuring in Europe both look likely to add billions in profits to Ford's bottom line over the next few years.

But the stock price has hardly budged since January.

Ford's leaders ask shareholders for patience
If you're a Ford shareholder, executive chairman Bill Ford feels your pain. The name isn't a coincidence - he's Henry Ford's great-grandson, and the Ford family still holds a lot of Ford stock.

Speaking at the company's annual meeting last week, Bill Ford acknowledged that the stock's performance has been sluggish, and asked investors to be patient.

He pointed out that the stock's gains have been stronger when looked at on a full-year basis, and he's right: Over the year ended last Friday, Ford stock is up about 32%.

There's no question that gains in 2013 have been meager, though, as investors have been worried about Ford's lack of profit growth recently.

But at that same meeting, Ford CFO Bob Shanks urged shareholders to take a long-term view. He pointed out that Ford's ongoing heavy investments in Asia would lead to big profit gains once they started to pay off.

"Just a little more time," he said, "and you'll see all parts of the company humming quite nicely."

So should we believe these guys?
I own Ford stock myself, and my answer is that I absolutely believe that we should give the company more time. CEO Alan Mulally's grand plan, called "One Ford", has already paid off big in North America - and that has given Ford's leaders a lot of credibility. It has also given some folks the impression that Ford's turnaround is a done deal.

But really, "One Ford" is still being implemented in Europe, which has been a big money-loser recently. Ford's losses in Europe in 2013 could total $2 billion, the company has warned - but they expect that to be turned around in a couple of years. Right there, that'll be a $2 billion increase in profits.

In Asia, where Ford is building a slew of new factories and experiencing huge sales growth, it's an expansion rather than a turnaround. But it's still a product of the "One Ford" plan, with Ford's much-improved global product line impressing a new audience.

Long story short, Ford's plan is working. Given a little more time, Ford's stock price should grow to reflect that.

As I said above, there's good reason to think that the Blue Oval still has big growth opportunities ahead. If you'd like to learn more about Ford's prospects over the next several quarters, check out The Motley Fool's premium Ford research service. The latest report digs into Ford's opportunities and challenges in depth, to give you a clear view of where the Blue Oval and its stock are headed. Just click here to get started now.

The article Why Is Ford Stock Stuck in Neutral? originally appeared on Fool.com.

Motley Fool contributor John Rosevear owns shares of Ford and General Motors. Follow him on Twitter at @jrosevear.The Motley Fool recommends Ford, General Motors, and Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford and Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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