Ford Says Operating Profit Substantially Lower in Quarter

Ford Motor Co., the second-largest U.S. automaker, said its pretax operating profit will be “substantially lower” in the second quarter in part because overseas losses tripled from the year’s first three months.

Ford will be profitable and have positive operating cash flow in the three months ending June 30, according to a filing yesterday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Ford said it expects “strong results” from its North American operations, while pretax losses in Europe, South America and Asia could reach $570 million.

“Our operations outside of North America are under increasing pressure,” the Dearborn, Michigan-based company said in the filing. “Our combined results for the second quarter for Ford South America, Ford Europe, and Ford Asia Pacific Africa could be a loss of about three times as much as the $190 million pretax loss incurred by these operations in the first quarter.”

Ford said market conditions in Europe have “deteriorated significantly” since the beginning of the year and it expects pressure on profit margins in the region “for the foreseeable future.” The automaker also will incur costs from introducing new models this year, including a new Fusion sedan and Escape sport-utility vehicle in the U.S.

Shares slid 5 percent to $9.59 at the close in New York, the lowest since Oct. 3. Ford has declined 11 percent this year.

European Deficit

Ford has previously said it expected to lose between $500 million and $600 million in Europe this year as a stubborn sovereign debt crisis saps consumer confidence and lowers auto sales industrywide. That has left the region with too many auto factories as vehicle demand declines. Ford had a pretax loss of $149 million in Europe in the first three months of the year.

European pretax losses this year may now exceed $1.1 billion for Ford and be greater than the deficit General Motors Co. may face in the region, Adam Jonas, an analyst with Morgan Stanley, wrote in a note yesterday. Ford is using just 63 percent of its European factory capacity, Jonas estimated.

Ford’s filing “serves as a wake-up call to investors and governments alike,” wrote Jonas, who rates Ford “overweight” and cut his full-year earnings estimate 14 percent to $1.30 a share. “Ford must reduce capacity urgently. It won’t be easy, but we believe they have the balance sheet and political will to pull it off.”

European ‘Quagmire’

“Europe is a quagmire for everybody, but especially General Motors and Ford,” Michelle Krebs, an analyst with researcher, said in an interview yesterday. “Ford has to figure out a different business model to be profitable in Europe. It has to be reinvented.”

Ford has not said it will close a plant in Europe. The company is developing new plans for the region, said Jay Cooney, a company spokesman.

“It’s too early to say what those plans involve,” Cooney said in an interview yesterday. “Our philosophy is to always align capacity with demand.”

GM, based in Detroit, is attempting to revamp its European operations, which have posted losses of $16.4 billion since 1999. Morgan Stanley’s Jonas estimated GM’s Opel unit is using 66 percent of its plant capacity, slightly better than Ford.

‘Economic Crisis’

Automakers are discounting heavily in Europe to try to stimulate demand, which is corroding profit margins, Krebs said. Closing excess factories in Europe is difficult because of strong labor unions and government resistance, she said.

“Volkswagen and GM are being very aggressive with incentives,” Krebs said. “Ford has not been involved to that degree and that is costing them sales. If they get in the game, then it will cost them profits.”

Ford said the “serious economic crisis” in Europe is “compounded by an intensifying competitive environment as manufacturers react to lower consumer demand and excess production capacity.”

In Asia, Ford is losing money because it said it “continues to invest and pay for future growth.” Ford is spending $4.9 billion on nine new factories in Asia and introducing 15 new models by 2015 in China, where it had 2.8 percent market share last year, trailing GM and Volkswagen AG.

“Ford is investing a ton of money in Asia because they’re late to the game,” Krebs said. “They’ve got to be very aggressive there.”

Losses in South America are due to “growing competitive and pricing pressures, as well as weakening currencies and unexpected and adverse changes in government policies affecting areas such as trade and access to foreign currency,” Ford said in the filing.

North America

Even North America, where Ford earned a pretax profit of $2.1 billion in the first quarter, the most since at least 2000, is under pressure from costs of the new model introductions, the automaker said.

“We expect the second quarter to be profitable, although strong results from Ford North America and Ford Credit will be partially offset by the combined results from our operations outside of North America,” Ford said in its filing. “We are developing actions to address the challenges outside of North America.” Ford Credit is the company’s consumer-finance unit.

Ford said it’s “evaluating the impact of the pressures outside of Ford North America” on its full-year forecast this year and will provide an update when it releases second-quarter results next month.

Ford has said it expects total company pretax profits to be “about equal” to 2011’s $8.8 billion or $1.51 a share.

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