Ford shores up cash

The auto industry's future is cloudy. Ford is increasing its cash position to prepare for the worst.

By Kim Peterson Nov 3, 2009 2:53PM
Ford logo; Credit: (© David Zalubowski/AP)Ford (F) is having a great week, reporting a nice third-quarter profit and announcing a 3% uptick in sales for October.

But what should really please investors is the steps Ford is taking to free up cash. The company isn't out of the woods yet, and knows that a strong cash position is the best way to get it there.

Here's what Ford is doing to boost its cash levels:

Selling stock and notes. The company will sell up to $1 billion in shares, the Associated Press reports. It also wants to offer up to $2.3 billion in notes that can be converted into stock or cash. The downside? Potential share dilution.

Asking for time. Ford borrowed about $10 billion back in February and now wants two more years to pay it back. To sweeten the deal, Ford is offering to repay 25% and then raise the interest and fees on the remaining debt. The downside? Higher financing costs.

Higher cash flow. Ford said that for its third quarter, it reached $1.8 billion in operating cash flow. Great news, especially considering the $16.6 billion in cash that Ford used up in 2008, according to Standard & Poor's.

Solid profit. The third quarter brought about $1.1 billion in profit. Ford even made a profit in North America -- its largest market -- for the first time in four years. Those earnings came after significant cost-cutting and job reductions.

Ford is by no means out of the woods. In fact, the company is expecting 2010 earnings to be lower than 2009 due to lower accounts receivable and less non-recurring income, according to Standard & Poor's.

That's why lining up its cash position is so important. Some of Ford's moves come with a downside, as I mentioned, but those won't seem all that bad if the company is hit by rising gas prices, a further decline in the economy, or competitive moves.

Just three years ago, Ford was considered to be in the worst shape of Detroit's Big Three after it posted the worst annual loss in its history, the AP reports. That was before the entire industry imploded.

There is much out of Ford's control in the precarious auto industry. But to the extent that the company can take charge of its own future, it has. And cash is very much key to that.

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