REPORT: Ford considers going private

DETROIT (Reuters) -- Ford Motor Co. is considering going private, USA Today reported today, citing a "source with direct knowledge of the discussions."

That would give the automaker time to restructure operations outside the glare of critics, the article on the paper's Web site said.

"The family is willing to look at anything," the newspaper quoted the source as saying. Top executives have said they are looking at every option available to turn Ford around, including selling off brands such as Jaguar, entering into partnerships with other automakers, slashing its work force and closing more plants, the article said.

A Ford spokesman said: "That is speculation. And we don't comment on speculation."

Earlier in August, Ford said it hired mergers and acquisitions expert Kenneth Leet as an adviser to CEO Bill Ford Jr. to explore strategic alternatives for the automaker. The Ford family owns about 5 percent of Ford's shares and controls about 40 percent of the voting power through a separate class of stock.

"I think that speculation exists because it's possible," Argus Research analyst Kevin Tynan said of the article. "And with where the market is right now, private equity could come in and snap Ford up pretty quickly. But would it do Ford any good? I don't think so."

Ford, which has not gained U.S. market share since 1995, is under pressure to speed up cost-cutting efforts after a $254 million loss in the second quarter and worse-than-expected July U.S. sales.

Ford's U.S. vehicle sales have fallen almost 10 percent percent through July, a month in which Japanese rival Toyota Motor Corp. outsold Ford for the first time.

Battling shrinking U.S. market share and rising costs, Ford has said it will accelerate its turnaround plan, dubbed the "Way Forward," to respond to weakening U.S. demand for fuel-hungry trucks and SUVs amid high gasoline prices.

The automaker also last week said it would cut fourth-quarter production to its lowest level in 25 years.


"It looks as if financially it would be something they could do," Margaret Patel, senior vice president at Pioneer Investments said of the USA Today article. "What they would accomplish by becoming a private company as it relates to cars I'm not really sure. Except for being out of the public eye, I don't know that there would be material benefits," Patel said.

Peter Morici, a professor of business studies at the University of Maryland, said going private would not solve Ford's fundamental problems.

"The labor cost and stale product issues would remain. Going private could actually hasten the demise of Ford if it removed market pressures to deal with these issues," he said.

Separately, reports on Wednesday and Thursday said Bill Ford had called Carlos Ghosn, who heads both Renault SA and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd., to discuss a possible alliance.

The reports said Ford had recently called Ghosn to say that if ongoing alliance talks among Nissan, Renault and General Motors faltered, Ghosn should consider talking to Ford instead of GM.

Limited teams of GM, Renault and Nissan executives are currently studying the possible benefits of an alliance and are expected to report back to Ghosn and GM CEO Rick Wagoner by mid-October.

"Whether they go private, or change management, it won't do anything," Tynan said. "Ghosn could turn around Nissan because he could just go in and start throwing stuff to the curb. But here, you have to deal with the United Auto Workers union. You cannot just slash jobs and close plants."

Ford has acknowledged courting Ghosn for a senior post at the automaker, an offer that Ghosn declined.

One obstacle to a Nissan-Renault alliance with Ford could be the controlling stake that the Ford family has in Ford Motor, analysts said.

Ghosn has said that he would want to take a substantial stake in GM under a potential alliance. A similar deal with Ford would require the support of the founding family, which controls the board through ownership of a separate class of stock.

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