Jan. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Ford Motor Co. plans to hire 2,200 salaried employees in the U.S. this year, the most in more than a decade, in an expansion that shows the strength of the recovery in the second-largest U.S. automaker’s home market.
The plan follows the addition of more than 8,100 hourly and salaried jobs last year, the Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker said today in an e-mailed statement. The company’s target for salaried employee hiring would be the biggest increase since Ford added 3,300 such workers in 2001.
Ford is expanding after U.S. light-vehicle sales gained 13 percent last year to 14.5 million, the best annual total in five years. The company doubled its quarterly dividend yesterday after earning a bigger pretax profit in North America during 2012’s first nine months than for all of 2011.
“We’re excited about the growth opportunity in 2013,” Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of the Americas, said today in an interview during “In the Loop with Betty Liu” on Bloomberg Television. The hiring is “about supporting the introduction of great new products and the pace of those new products.”
The company last year introduced redesigned versions of two of its top sellers, the Fusion family sedan and Escape sport-utility vehicle. This year, the automaker is rolling out the Lincoln MKZ sedan aimed at reviving its lagging luxury line.
Ford yesterday increased its quarterly dividend to 10 cents a share, a move that will boost the annual payout to the Ford family to more than $28 million. The first-quarter dividend, which will cost the company about $380 million, will be payable March 1, the automaker said yesterday in a statement.
Ford earned $6.47 billion before taxes in North America in 2012’s first nine months. The region generated an operating profit margin of 11.2 percent during that period in an industry where a 5 percent margin is respectable, as part of Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally’s product-development plan known as One Ford.
While Ford’s hiring will increase costs, the automaker will still meet its long-term pledge to keep profit margins in a range of 8 percent to 10 percent, said Brian Johnson, an analyst with Barclays Plc, who rates Ford overweight.
“The rebound in the U.S. market has given them more latitude to put more investments back in the product line and still be at the high end of their 8 to 10 percent margin guidance,” said Johnson, who expects Ford North American margins to top 10 percent this year. “If investors are looking for 11 to 12 percent margins and growth, they’ll likely to be disappointed. Ford’s more likely to err on the side of keeping the brand franchise healthy.”
Ford rose 1.2 percent to $14 at the close in New York. The shares have gained 8.1 percent this year after advancing 20 percent in 2012.
Mulally has led Ford to 14 consecutive quarters of net income as the automaker boosted margins through his One Ford global product-development plan. Mulally, 67, is trying to boost profits by selling the same models worldwide, rather than different versions for various regions.
Ford is more than halfway to its commitment to add 12,000 new U.S. jobs by 2015, made as part of the company’s 2011 contract with the United Auto Workers union, according to the statement.
Ford has forecast that its North American production will rise to 750,000 vehicles in the first quarter, an 11 percent increase from a year earlier.
Ford ended last year with 28,000 salaried workers, up from 25,000 in 2009, when U.S. auto sales plunged to a 27-year low. The company had 38,600 white-collar employees in 2006.
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