Want to own a company with a powerhouse global brand and big profits that's poised for major growth in Asia? One whose stock looks cheap right now?
Who wouldn't, right? Here are three good reasons to take a closer look at the company I'm talking about -- the venerable Detroit automaker Ford (NYSE: F ) . With a price-to-earnings ratio around 7, Ford is still trading well below its historical range, even as its business looks poised to shift into higher gear.
Reason No. 1: Have you driven a Ford lately?
The Blue Oval Brand's old ad tagline has never been more apt: Ford's current lineup of vehicles is exceptionally strong, miles beyond its best products of even a few years ago, and more and more shoppers are catching on.
That's both a challenge and an opportunity for Ford -- and, potentially, an opportunity for investors. Ford's streamlined, globalized product strategy has led to a smaller lineup of cars and trucks, but each of its entries has been lavished with developmental attention -- and quality has risen sharply. Meanwhile, Ford's strategy of offering luxury-car features on mainstream models has done wonders for consumer perceptions (and plenty of good for Ford's margins.)
Showrooms full of strong vehicles have helped Ford expand its share of the all-important U.S. market over the last few years, as key rivals Toyota (NYSE: TM ) , Honda (NYSE: HMC ) , and General Motors (NYSE: GM ) faced challenges.
The challenge for Ford is that its market share has slipped in recent months, as those rivals have recovered and as Ford's leaner-and-meaner production base has struggled to keep up with demand for hot products such as the Explorer and Focus. Still, that's a good problem to have, and one that I expect will lead to incremental growth in sales (and perhaps more-than-incremental growth in profits) as Ford is able to increase production over time.
Reason No. 2: Big opportunities in the world's biggest market
Ford's lineup of great products that compete well with the best from Toyota, GM, and Volkswagen (OTC: VLKAY) will prove to be key in the company's most ambitious venture: gaining a big piece of the Chinese pie.
Ford is a late comer to the China party, as the company was preoccupied with problems at home while rivals like GM and VW built up huge presences in the country over the past decade. The Middle Kingdom has grown into the world's largest automotive market, but Ford is still a relatively minor player there.
That may change soon. Ford CEO Alan Mulally has moved aggressively to make up for lost time. Ford has invested big -- nearly $5 billion so far -- in new factories and infrastructure in China and is planning to roll out 15 new vehicles and double its sales in the country by mid-decade.
The first of those 15, the hot Focus compact, was rolled out in April to an enthusiastic reception. Perhaps even more so than in the U.S., Ford has positioned its well-equipped cars as premium-ish offerings in China, and that -- along with Ford's standing as one of the world's oldest car companies, which means something in China -- appears to be playing well with Chinese consumers.
That bodes well for Mulally's plan, which is to use growth in emerging markets to drive earnings growth later in the decade. That's another reason to consider buying Ford sooner rather than later.
Reason No. 3: Near-flawless execution bodes well for the future
A few years ago, back when Ford still looked to many like a long shot to even survive, much less thrive, I said Mulally "might be the best CEO in America not named Buffett." That has proved to be a pretty good call, as he has led Ford from an overleveraged turnaround long shot to one of the most solid -- and most profitable -- automakers in the world.
Mulally, the former Boeing executive brought in by the Ford family in 2006 to save the company, has racked up a laundry list of achievements that many Detroit-watchers would have considered impossible just a few years ago. Most important among them: He took a sprawling, faction-riddled global mess of a company and transformed it into a cohesive, unified firm focused on simple, common goals.
Mulally is 66 and likely to retire sometime in the next few years, but Ford has a deep bench, and his successor -- with the guidance of Executive Chairman (and Ford heir) Bill Ford, Mulally's predecessor as CEO -- should be well positioned to continue Ford's renaissance. One likely candidate: Mark Fields, president of Ford's North and South American divisions, a capable and still-young executive who has played a big role in the company's turnaround.
But no matter who Mulally's successor turns out to be, Ford's near-flawless execution since his arrival bodes well for the company's prospects over the next several years -- and that, as much as anything else, makes Ford worth serious investor consideration.
Ford has been performing incredibly well as a company over the past few years -- it's making good vehicles, is consistently profitable, recently reinstated its dividend, and has done a remarkable job paying down its debt. But despite this, Ford's stock price is down 23% over the past year. Does this create an incredible buying opportunity, or are there hidden risks with the stock that investors need to know about? To answer that, one of our top equity analysts has compiled a premium research report with in-depth analysis on whether Ford is a buy right now, and why. Get instant access to this premium report. Or, if you'd rather take a look at a high-growth company outside the cyclical manufacturing sector, check out our special free report, "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2012," which features a company our chief investment officer uncovered that's revolutionizing commerce in Latin America.