The Sexiest Automotive Stock on the Planet

Ford (NYSE: F  ) sent out some encouraging signals with its new mid-decade outlook. The automaker plans to expand into new markets and focus more on the growing Asia-Pacific region, an area where it's been lagging behind its rivals.

Meanwhile, it's working diligently on restructuring its product portfolio and improving the quality of its balance sheet, further fueling the generally positive outlook that investors have been buying into of late.

Management has reason to believe that the next five years will be a lot rosier than the past five have been.  Let’s look at what the company aims to do in the years ahead.

The emerging-markets strategy
By 2014, Ford plans to increase its global product portfolio by 140% from 2009 levels. With an eye on current trends, the company expects 55% of its total sales to come from small cars by 2020, with a nearly 32% contribution from the Asia Pacific and Africa regions. Ford will also lower vehicles prices by $1,000 to $2,000 in emerging markets and aims to double its network in China and increase the number of dealers in India threefold in the next five years.

Although rival General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) currently leads in China with a 14% market share, Ford is picking up steam. In May, while China sales for rivals GM, Toyota (NYSE: TM  ) , and Honda (NYSE: HMC  ) fell 2.7%, 35%, and 32%, respectively, Ford reported a 14% increase.

A look at the numbers
Ford recently reported strong first-quarter results, with a 22% year-over-year increase in its bottom line to $2.6 billion. The top line rose 18% to an estimate-beating $33.1 billion, marking the seventh straight quarterly profit after continuous losses.

The company also plans to lower its debt levels to around $10 billion by mid-decade, taking it to less than half of the $33.6 billion it carried in 2009. This is the latest step in the great headway Ford has been making in reducing its debt load. Last year, the company reduced its automotive debt by $14.5 billion, a big 43% reduction from 2009 levels. The anticipated further debt reduction will help Ford secure an investment-grade debt rating and help it resume dividend payments.

Ford was, of course, the only company among the Detroit Three that avoided a bankruptcy filing, mainly because it privately borrowed $23.5 billion in 2006 to finance a turnaround effort. The U.S. government, meanwhile, infamously bailed out GM and Chrysler.

The Foolish bottom line
Ford aims to sell 8 million units a year by 2015, up almost 50% from 5.3 million last year. It also expects an 8% to 9% increase in automotive operating margins, up from 6.1% in 2010.

Such positive projections, along with Ford's robust expansion plans, portfolio upgrades, debt reduction, and strong numbers, give us ample reason to take a positive view on this company. Foolish investors can expect good things from Ford in the long term.

Fool contributor Neha Chamaria owns no shares of any of the companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Ford Motor and General Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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