Having admitted last March that “used car prices will drop for years” amid near record inventories, having reached a so-called ‘plateau’ in car sales, amid rising auto-loan losses, and less than a year after it fired 10% of its global workforce, on Tuesday afternoon Ford disappointed once again, reporting preliminary financial results for 2017 and guidance that fell short of investor expectations, in a downbeat forecast that contrasted with a more positive outlook from rival automaker General Motors.
In 2017 Ford said it would miss consensus estimates of $1.83, and will report adjusted earnings of $1.78 per share. For 2018, Ford expects adjusted earnings of $1.45 to $1.70 per share, below consensus of $1.62. Ford blamed exchange rates (which is odd since the dollar has been tumbling in recent months) and rising prices for the commodities used in its vehicles for the projected decline in 2018 adjusted earnings.
Over the past year, Ford shares are up only about 4%, significantly trailing the 18% return of its arch-rival GM. Last May, Ford’s board ousted CEO Mark Fields and named Jim Hackett, who was known as a turnaround expert and had been leading Ford’s unit developing self-driving vehicles, to replace him. As Reuters reports, Hackett has promised to slash Ford’s product development costs by $14 billion and has launched reviews of the vehicle lineup.
Ford’s disappointing forecast reinforces Hackett’s warning to investors from last fall that the cost-cutting and product strategy changes could take time.
Ford CFO Bob Shanks told analysts at a Detroit investor conference organized by Deutsche Bank that higher costs for steel, aluminum and other metals, as well as currency volatility, would cost the company $1.6 billion in 2018, and while cost-cutting actions are under way, they will have the biggest impact “in 2020 and later,” Shanks said quoted by Reuters.
“We are not satisfied by our performance,” Shanks said.
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But the most surprising announcement of the day came from EVP and president of global markets Jim Farley who said that Ford is pivoting away from being a full-line automaker, and will shift to low volume, high margin cars, a substantial metamorphosis for America’s premier auto brand.
According to Farley, the company’s business structure was “out of sync with our revenue,” and vowed to cut costs by sharply reducing the variants of high-volume Ford models and slashing marketing costs by $200 million a year. Farley also hinted at possible significant changes in the structure of Ford’s money-losing South American business.
Farley said that that Lincoln brand will orient toward SUVs, and that Ford will have 25 new model launches by end of 2019. He also cautioned that Ford profit would drop as electric car catch-up would be costly.
”We are exploring every option you can imagine,” Farley told analysts on the sidelines of the Detroit auto show.
To boost revenue, Farley said Ford would decrease its passenger-car models and develop more trucks and sport utility vehicles aiming at profitable niches such as rugged off-road models. In all, Ford expects cars to drop below one-third of its total sales mix.
And while the business transformation will take even longer than expected, the company decided to immediately reward its shareholders, and said it would pay shareholders an extra dividend of $500 million, or 13 cents a share, for the first quarter. Oh, and just to seal the deal, Ford said its employees would not be given pay increases or bonuses as a result of tax reform.