Ford beats expectations in third quarter

Despite a stellar quarter, the company saw its share price drop as investors await dividend news.

By Benzinga Oct 26, 2011 7:01PM
The old slogan for Ford (F) used to be, "Have you driven a Ford lately?"

For more drivers, the answer appears to be yes, judging by the automaker's third quarter report Wednesday.

Ford reported a profit of 46 cents per share on $33.1 billion in revenue, beating analyst expectations of 45 cents per share on $29.86 billion in revenue. The company also increased its estimate for fourth quarter production by about 22,000 units to 1.4 million.


Ford lost money on commodity hedges, taking a non-cash write down of $350 million to hedges for future periods, as both copper and aluminum dropped sharply during the quarter. That cut pretax operating income to $1.9 billion during the quarter.


According to Edmunds.com, Ford buyers paid an average of $32,945 per model. This is extraordinary, especially in an industry notorious for discounts, incentives, and low-cost financing. Chief executive Alan Mulally and his team have been able to do away with some of the incentives that hurt profit in the past, and the earnings are reflecting that. The share price? Not so much.


Despite the earnings beat and the strong guidance from Ford, shares fell 4.5% from Tuesday's to close at $11.87. Why the downbeat performance?


A simple answer is that investors are clamoring for news on the dividend, and Ford has nothing new to offer on that front... at least not yet.


Mulally went on CNBC Wednesday and promised to "pay a dividend sooner rather than later." This does not appear to be appeasing shareholders, however, who wanted something now.


Moody's is reviewing its credit rating on Ford after rival Standard & Poor's raised the company's rating to BB+ last week. A contract ratified by the United Auto Workers union last week will allow Ford to keep operating expenses in line and create an additional 12,000 jobs by 2015. Fitch (the other major credit rating firm) also has a BB+ rating on Ford.


Mulally and his team have done what would seem to be a tremendous job, turning the company around from near-death back in 2008. The share price was under $1, and Ford had significantly more debt than cash on hand.


Since then, debt has been cut to $12.7 billion, and cash on hand is around $20.8 billion. The company also expects to spend $4.6 billion this year, less than the $5 billion to $5.5 billion it had expected, because of efforts "to generate greater efficiencies," chief financial officer Lewis Booth said.


In order for Ford to resume its dividend, the company wants to get to an investment-grade credit rating. Operating more efficiently, cutting debt, increasing cash and selling more cars at higher prices will allow that. The dip in shares Wednesday might be a buying opportunity, depending on the time frame of investors. Shares trade at around 7 times estimated 2012 earnings, and if Alan Mulally and the rest of his team can continue to deliver results, then Ford may pay a dividend sooner than investors think.


News of a dividend will certainly "drive" the share price higher, and Ford investors will be driving all the way to the bank.


ACTION ITEMS:

Bullish:
Traders who believe that Ford will continue to report strong earnings and announce a dividend might want to consider the following trades:

  • Ford shares have lost almost 30% year to date. If there is an announcement of a dividend, this could be a big boost to shares.
  • Consider looking at General Motors (GM) as a potential short, if you see that Ford is taking away market share from GM.

Bearish:
Traders who believe that the economy is going to get worse may consider alternate positions:

  • If the global economy gets worse, Ford may not be able to pay a dividend. If not, this could be a negative for Ford shares, as investors eventually expect a dividend. 

Neither Benzinga nor its staff recommend that you buy, sell, or hold any security.


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