Ford profits fall on recall charges, higher costs
DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. reported first-quarter net income of $1.6 billion, down $900 million from a year earlier, as revenue rose and profit margins shrank.
Pretax earnings were $2.2 billion, down $1.6 billion, or 42 percent, from a year earlier, when Ford posted its best quarter in the company’s 114-year history.
The automaker’s revenue rose 1.4 billion, or 4 percent, to $39.1 billion thanks to a strong sales mix. But profits were pinched by charges for recalls, continued investment in new mobility services and higher parts costs for some of its 2016 launches.
Executives said the quarter will be the toughest in what’s expected to be a down year. The remainder of 2017 will be about even to, or even better than, its financial performance last year, where it made $10.4 billion pretax profit, second-best in the company’s history.
Ford shares closed down 1.1 percent to $11.47.
Ford’s profit margins during the quarter fell 4.4 percentage points to 5.4 percent. Ford reported earnings per share of 40 cents, down from the first quarter of last year but better than the 35 cents analysts had expected.
“It was a solid quarter,” Ford CFO Bob Shanks told reporters. “There were no surprises; it’s consistent with what we had expected.”
Ford took a $467 million warranty hit in the first quarter. That includes a $295 million charge for two recalls, one involving engines that could catch fire and the other involving door latches.
CEO Mark Fields said the recall costs that have plagued Ford’s bottom line in recent years -- it also took a $600 million charge in the third quarter of 2016 -- are due to building more vehicles with similar underpinnings.
“We were a little bit ahead of the industry in reducing our platforms and getting commonality of parts,” he said. “When we do have a recall, it tends to hit a bigger population. Whenever we see something, we’re going to act very proactively for the customer. That’s exactly what we’ll continue to do.”
The automaker’s profits were driven by North America, where it made a $2 billion pre-tax profit, down $1.1 billion from a year earlier.
Profit margins there fell 4.6 percentage points to 8.3 percent, and Ford’s market share fell 0.5 percentage points to 14.1 percent due to lower fleet sales. Ford’s retail share rose two-tenths of a percentage point, thanks to sales of trucks, utilities and luxury vehicles.
Many of the factors affecting Ford’s overall business -- like part costs and investing in mobility -- are taking place in North America.
The company expects the U.S. sales market will continue to plateau, although it is being helped by strong truck and SUV sales -- two areas where Ford is investing and updating its products, like the recently redesigned Super Duty and refreshed Escape.
“We’re continuing our intense focus on costs,” Fields said. “We’re not only mindful of the current environment, but also preparing even more for a downturn scenario.”
Ford expects it can break even in North America if the selling rate falls to 11 million.
Ford made a pre-tax profit of $176 million in Europe, down $258 million from last year, for its eighth-consecutive quarterly profit there. The automaker expects continued profits there as it offers more expensive trims on some of its popular sedans and utilities.
It also made $124 million in Asia Pacific, despite a “tough quarter” for China, Shanks said. That was $96 million less than it made there at the same time last year.
Ford lost $244 million in South America, although results improved by $12 million compared with last year.
It lost $80 million in the Middle East and Africa, $66 million more than it lost there a year ago.
Ford reaffirmed its full-year guidance. It expects to make a pre-tax profit of $9 billion, down from $10.4 billion in 2016 as it invests in “emerging opportunities” like autonomous and electric vehicles.
It's in the midst of spending $4.5 billion through 2021 on 13 new electrified vehicles. Fields said that the company believes that in 15 years, there will be more electrified vehicles on the market than vehicles with internal combustion engines.
It recently agreed to invest $1 billion in artificial intelligence startup Argo AI over five years. And, Ford is expanding Chariot, a Silicon Valley shuttle service it acquired last year.
“This quarter was an investment in Ford’s future,” Fields said in a statement.
Shanks said that the remainder of 2017 will be about even or better than Ford’s financial performance in 2016.
“This will be the toughest quarter,” he said, although he noted that Ford’s lowest profits of the year will come in the third quarter, because of seasonal timing.
Ford has forecast a profit for its Ford Credit arm of about $1.5 billion this year, down from $1.9 billion, because of lower auction values and a glut of off-lease cars. Ford Credit posted a pre-tax profit of $481 million for the first quarter, down $33 million from a year ago.
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