Ford Q4 operating profit slips to $1.1B on Europe, Asia losses
Photo credit: FORD
DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. said its pretax operating earnings in the fourth quarter fell 15 percent to $1.1 billion, in part due to widening losses in Europe, as the company posted its third straight annual net profit.
Quarterly automotive profits were hurt by higher commodity costs, rising compensation costs in North America -- including a one-time ratification bonus related to Ford's new contract with the UAW -- and unfavorable exchange rates. Floods in Thailand contributed to a loss in the Asia Pacific Africa region after a year-earlier profit.
Fourth-quarter net income surged to $13.6 billion from $190 million a year earlier and the highest for any fourth quarter ever, aided by a one-time accounting gain. Revenue for the October-December period rose 6 percent to $34.6 billion.
"Despite the continued uncertainty in the external environment, the strength of our North American and Ford Credit operations allows us to continue to invest for future growth," CEO Alan Mulally said in a statement.
Full-year pretax operating profit rose 6 percent to $8.8 billion.
Full-year net income tripled to $20.2 billion, highest since 1998, bolstered by a non-cash special item of $12.4 billion.
That gain stemmed from eliminating a valuation allowance against deferred tax benefits. Ford no longer needs the reserve because it expects to be profitable in coming years and be able to use the tax benefits, according to a U.S. filing. The resource was created in 2006 as Ford began reporting losses that would total $30.1 billion through 2008.
Ford CFO Lewis Booth said: "The release of most of our valuation allowance is a really positive step and a strong indication of profits going forward."
Full-year revenues rose 13 percent to $136.3 billion.
One Ford takes root
Booth said the company is "only at the beginning of seeing the benefits of its One Ford" global strategy of consolidating vehicle platforms and business operations worldwide, eliminating duplication in North America and Europe.
"We met most of our operating objectives despite a challenging year," Booth told reporters this morning. "We had a good quarter in the fourth quarter. We grew volume and we grew revenue."
External factors, including floods in Thailand, had an adverse effect on most regions outside of North America, Booth said.
In Europe, Ford's pretax operating loss of $190 million widened from a loss of $51 million a year earlier. Ford cited higher material costs, about half of which were higher commodity costs, and lower profits at subsidiaries. Revenues rose $200 million to $8.3 billion.
For the full year, Europe swung to a pretax operating loss of $27 million from a profit of $182 million a year earlier.
"Europe is a very challenging business environment at the moment. It's challenging and may stay challenging for some time," Booth said. "We're seeing some countries back in recession and others hovering around but not quite in recession."
Asia Pacific is a "volatile market" but "we expect Asia Pacific to be profitable this year," he said, barring the kind of unforeseen disasters of 2011, including the Japanese tsunami and Thai floods. The floods cost the company 34,000 units of production in Thailand and South Africa because of a shortage of parts from the flooded regions.
The Asia Pacific Africa region swung to a fourth-quarter pretax operating loss of $83 million from a profit of $23 million a year earlier. The loss was due to the Thai floods, as well as higher costs for new products and investments for future growth. Ford is building seven new plants in the Asia Pacific region.
Fourth-quarter revenue fell $300 million to $1.9 billion.
For the full year, Asia Pacific Africa swung to a pretax operating loss of $92 million from a year-earlier profit of $189 million.
In South America, fourth-quarter pretax operating profit tumbled 62 percent to $108 million on higher costs and unfavorable exchange rates, as revenue remained unchanged at $2.8 billion. For the full year, pretax operating profits fell 14 percent to $861 million.
North America was the only region to see profits rise. Fourth-quarter pretax operating profits jumped 33 percent to $889 million, on higher sales volume, stronger pricing and a more profitable mix of sales, offset in part by higher costs. Revenues rose $2.4 billion to $19.6 billion.
For the full year, North America's pretax operating profit rose 15 percent to $6.2 billion.
Ford Motor Credit Co.'s fourth-quarter pretax operating profit fell 12 percent to $506 million. The automaker said the drop was in line with expectations. Higher used-vehicle prices have led to strong profits on sales of off-lease vehicles, but Ford Credit had fewer vehicles coming off lease to sell in the quarter.
For the year, Ford Credit's pretax operating profits dropped 23 percent to $2.4 billion.
Automotive debt, which excludes Ford Motor Credit, was $13.1 billion at year's end, an increase from $12.7 billion on Sept. 30, the company said. The debt rose in the quarter primarily because Ford tapped loans from the U.S. Department of Energy that boosted its obligations by $300 million, the automaker said. The federal loans are being used to produce fuel-efficient cars.
For the year, automotive debt fell by $6 billion.
Ford has more debt than rivals because it borrowed $23 billion in late 2006, after Mulally arrived from Boeing Co. and before credit markets froze. That enabled the automaker to avoid the bailouts and bankruptcies that befell General Motors and Chrysler in 2009.
Gross cash rose $2.4 billion during the year to $22.9 billion, leaving the automaker with net cash of $9.8 billion, up from $1.4 billion a year earlier.
For 2012, Ford expects U.S. industry volume to be in the range of 13.5 million to 14.5 million vehicles and between 14 million and 15 million in 19 European markets. The forecasts include medium- and heavy-duty trucks.
Ford expects its market share in the two regions to be similar to 2011, when Ford recorded shares of 16.5 percent in the United States and 8.3 percent in Europe, again including commercial trucks.
Ford's share of the U.S. light-vehicle market in 2011 was 16.8 percent, down from 16.9 percent in 2010, according to the Automotive News Data Center.
Ford lost U.S. share for the first time in two years last year, as sales comparisons to 2010 suffered because of the sale of Volvo and elimination of Mercury.
The company plans an aggressive product offensive in 2012, as redesigns of two of its top three selling vehicles arrive later this year. The 2013 Escape crossover and Fusion mid-sized sedan will feature dramatic new styling and a wide array of engine choices.
The F-series pickup remained the U.S. industry's best-selling vehicle last year.
Bloomberg contributed to this report.
You can reach Bradford Wernle at firstname.lastname@example.org.