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Looking for a good stock to buy today? You could do a lot worse than to consider Ford (NYSE: F ) . Over the past few years, this iconic American company has transformed itself from a wrecked has-been to a focused, disciplined, and profitable leader of the global auto business.
Ford's turnaround is already one for the business history books. But in some ways, the good part is just beginning -- though challenges remain. Here are six reasons to take a good look at Ford's stock, along with a few concerns to keep in mind as you do.
Reason No. 1: Ford's cheap
Historically, auto companies have traded at about 10 times earnings. That's a reasonable multiple, maybe even a little cheap at a moment (like now) when a company's profits are solid and the economy is on the upswing. As I write this, Ford's trading at about 7.7 times earnings. Even with Ford's ongoing challenges (more on those in a moment), and even assuming that this year's earnings won't be up over 2011's, there's considerable upside -- and even a modest dividend.
Reason No. 2: The economy's improving in Ford-friendly ways
Automakers are cyclical stocks, and cyclical stock prices tend to follow the economy's swings. And while there's still a way to go, things are finally looking up on the economic front: Unemployment claims fell unexpectedly last week. That follows on a surprisingly favorable report for January -- a report that sent Ford's stock surging more than 4% last Friday. Ford's end-to-end product strength and improving reputation leave it well positioned to benefit as more consumers start shopping for new cars.
Reason No. 3: Ford's expanding in emerging markets
The top five best-selling cars in Russia? Two Ladas, two low-cost Korean products, and one surprise -- the Ford Focus. Ford makes the Focus (the same acclaimed Focus that was introduced here last year) locally, in a big plant near St. Petersburg. Russia's auto market is still relatively small, but Ford is already well positioned -- just as it is in India. Meanwhile, after a late start, the Blue Oval is investing heavily in China, with an eye toward reaping big profits in Asia by mid-decade.
Reason No. 4: Ford's a green leader
Toyota (NYSE: TM ) is known as the world's leader in hybrid vehicles, but Ford's not far behind. A hybrid version of its popular Fusion sedan has been a steady seller, and a plug-in version is coming later this year. Meanwhile, an all-electric version of the Focus that compares well with Nissan's (OTC: NSANY.PK) acclaimed Leaf is on its way to dealers -- and back in the gas-burning world, its EcoBoost series of advanced turbocharged engines is improving the fuel economy of everything from small cars to big pickups.
Reason No. 5: Ford's outpacing GM
General Motors (NYSE: GM ) is once again the world's largest-selling automaker, at least for the moment. But its product line, particularly in the U.S., is still somewhat hit-or-miss -- a legacy of the company's spiral into bankruptcy, which sent product-development efforts into underfunded disarray. GM's back on track and making progress, but Ford's product overhaul is essentially complete -- leaving the Blue Oval better positioned to withstand the post-tsunami resurgence of Toyota and Honda (NYSE: HMC ) with competitive products in nearly all segments.
Reason No. 6: A deep executive bench
Ford's ace CFO, Lewis Booth, announced his retirement on Thursday, as did Global Product Development Chief Derrick Kuzak. That's the guy who brought Ford's balance sheet under control and the guy who drove the "One Ford" product strategy that turned the company around -- gone. That's bad, isn't it? Not at all: Ford has been preparing for these departures for some time, and their capable successors -- Controller Bob Shanks and VP of Engineering Raj Nair -- should have seamless transitions. While CEO Alan Mulally isn't planning leaving anytime soon, I expect that his eventual transition will be just as seamless, thanks to Ford's still-deep executive bench.
There are plenty of other reasons to consider buying Ford. The company's debt has fallen to untroubling levels, it has lots of cash on hand, a credit boost to investment-grade status is likely later this year, the new Fusion looks like a winner ... the list could go on for a while, and I encourage you to add a comment below with any I haven't yet mentioned.
But before you buy, keep in mind ...
That long list doesn't mean Ford has no challenges ahead. Overseas operations, particularly in Europe (but also in Brazil) will continue to weigh on earnings for some time -- though Ford is making progress with most.
Also, Ford's strategy of adding premium features to bread-and-butter models to command premium pricing may not be working quite as planned, as sales of the Focus and Fiesta are lagging those of some rival cars that really aren't quite as nice. Price adjustments may be necessary as the year goes on -- and those won't help margins.
But there's a lot to like about the Blue Oval right now, and while I already own Ford and have for a while, I've also backed up my recommendation with a hearty thumbs-up in Motley Fool CAPS.
Finally, Ford's long-awaited dividend will be back in March, but you don't have to wait to put the power of reinvested dividends to work in your portfolio. In a special new report, Motley Fool analysts identify "11 Rock-Solid Dividend Stocks," all great additions to a long-term investor's portfolio. This report is completely free for Fool readers -- get instant access.