Ford Holds Its Own, In Spite of Europe

Unfortunately, the Q3 results Ford (NYSE: F  ) announced on Oct. 30 won't light a fire under investors waiting for the domestic automaker to break out of its share price slump. Why? The concerns naysayers have held onto like grim death still plague Ford, and they're all about Europe. The decline in South American revenues and net income didn't help matters, of course. But the problem with Ford is, was, and will remain Europe, at least until recent plans to reinvigorate the region take hold, or Europe's economy begins to show signs of life.

Without neglecting the negativity surrounding Ford's European results, there are at least as many upsides as downsides from its fiscal Q3. Will that stop downward pressure on Ford's stock price once trading commences after Sandy's done her worst? Probably not, and that's good news for mid-term Foolish investors.

South America results
Three primary factors conspired to hurt Ford's South America results in Q3. Higher costs, poor product volume and mix, along with unfavorable exchange rates. Poor South American revenues shouldn't have a major impact on Ford's stock price, however, as CEO Alan Mulally made it clear from prior guidance, a tough year was on the horizon. Of course, South America isn't in the same ballpark as Europe in terms of financial expectations, but its $2.3 billion in revenues vs. $3 billion last year, and $9 million in net income, disappointed regardless.

Ford watchers will recall last year's income numbers -- across all markets -- were significantly affected by a huge tax benefit. But a 23% drop in South American revenues vs. Q3 of 2011 isn't good, no matter the impact of one-time benefits.

Europe
The big thorn in Ford's side remains Europe. The $2 billion drop in revenues compared Q3 2011's $7.8 billion hit Ford hard -- to the tune of a $468 million pre-tax loss for the quarter. The 2011 pre-tax loss of $306 million starts looking pretty good in comparison. For the year, Ford stated in its earnings announcement the European market is now expected to post a loss over $1.5 billion, pre-tax, for 2012.

Though Ford has been hit hardest in Europe among the auto leaders, not surprisingly, Europe is causing problems for the entire auto manufacturing industry. Even while reaffirming its position as the world's No. 1 auto sales king, Toyota's (NYSE: TM  ) recent sales results showed the first decline in 14 months, in part because of slowing exports in Europe.

Honda (NYSE: HMC  ) , as expected, announced on Oct. 29 fiscal Q2 increases across the board compared to the storm-ravaged results of 2011. However, Honda management subsequently lowered guidance for the balance of the year, which is certain to put pressure on Honda once trading resumes.

It's not all bad for Ford
Though it'd be easy to focus on the doom and gloom, as it turns out, Ford's Q3 includes more than its fair share of upsides.

Even accounting for decreased South American sales, and the horrendous results in Europe, Ford announced record pre-tax earnings -- making 13 straight profitable quarters -- its best North American sales results ever, and operating cash flow that added to what is already a solid pile of cash.

Ford credit, though down vs. Q3 of 2011, was also in the black, generating $393 million in pre-tax profit. Also positive were the results in Ford's Asia, Pacific, and African markets. Naysayers will point out the region does little to add to Ford's bottom line, but a nearly $100 million swing in revenues to the positive from 2011 is nothing to sneeze at.

Ford's plans to return the European market to profitability by 2015 include the previously announced closings of several European factories. The closures align with Mulally's objectives: To better align Europe's demand for Ford cars with production, while at the same time introducing new models to help jump-start interest in Ford models.

Europe has certainly changed the landscape of auto manufacturers worldwide, but (thankfully) some things haven't changed a bit. Ford remains incredibly strong in the all-important North American market, consistently outpacing rival General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) in monthly sales growth relative to prior quarters. Granted, GM is starting from a different position than Ford, fighting with Toyota for world sales leadership. But Ford's margins, ROA, and solid 1.9% dividend blow GM away. Europe, or no Europe, Ford remains a strong investment alternative for mid- and long-term investors.

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 Ford's stock seems stuck in neutral. 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. Simply click here to get instant access to this premium report.


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