Ford: An all-American success story
The automaker is a bargain bet on a US economic turnaround.
Our latest featured recommendation is all-American stalwart and success story Ford Motor Co. (F), a bet on U.S. consumers and the burgeoning economic recovery.
Even as Europe struggles with its debt crisis, the news from the U.S. economy has been improving steadily.
The Institute for Supply Management reported that the U.S. manufacturing index rose to 52.7 in November and that new orders and production rose to seven-month highs.
The unemployment rate recently dropped to 8.6%. Consumer confidence has ticked up, and U.S consumers went on an auto spending spree in November -- a normally weak month for auto sales.
With the average age of vehicles on U.S. roads hitting almost 11 years, pent-up demand resulted in an impressive 10.6% rise in seasonally adjusted annual sales (SAAS) to 13.6 million units as of last month.
That's up from a SAAS of 12.28 million in the same month of 2010 and the highest SAAS rate since August 2009, when the U.S. government launched Cash for Clunkers. November was also the third straight month when annualized vehicle sales have topped the 13 million mark.
Ford posted double-digit gains of 13.3% in November to 166,865 vehicles, driven by strong sales of trucks and SUVs. Its 16.6% share of U.S. vehicle sales in November was its highest level in five years.
Ford's retail sales actually soared by an even more impressive 20%. Retail sales, as opposed to sales to fleets like rental-car companies and government agencies, rank as the industry's most profitable segment.
Ford expects an industrywide sales rate of around 13.5 million units for all of next year.
Ford also announced that it will restore a regular dividend. Ford halted its dividend payment back in 2006 when markets were in turmoil. Restoration of a dividend payment is a good sign of financial strength.
Much of Ford's success has been thanks to CEO Alan Mulally, who has prioritized profit over market share.
Coming to Ford from Boeing just five years ago in September 2006, Mulally eliminated Ford's dividend and sold Ford's noncore brands. He also shut down Mercury, focusing on Ford the mass market and Lincoln on higher-end car buyers.
He also raised $20 billion as a cushion against bad times that has served Ford well, while delivering nine straight quarters of pretax profits.
Ford was a darling among investors after the market bottomed in March 2009 but has actually underperformed the broader market since hitting a high of $18.71 in January.
But with a price-to-earnings ratio of 6.56 and a turnaround in the U.S. car market under way, Ford is a bargain once again.
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