3 Things to Look For in Ford's Q4 Earnings

Ford (NYSE: F  ) is set to release its earnings Jan. 29 at 7:00 a.m. EST, and what it reports will likely determine if Ford's rally continues or goes back into neutral. Ford's share price has skyrocketed over the last four months, and for good reason. With CEO Alan Mulally's One Ford vision, the company has become extremely efficient and has been able to raise its net income and margin significantly since the recession. Management has recently expressed confidence in its ability to stay profitable by doubling its quarterly dividend from $0.05 to $0.10. If investors hope the earnings release will continue the rally, here are three factors we need to look into.

By the numbers
At first glance, which is unfortunately as deep as some dig, we need to see if Ford beats expectations on revenue and EPS. The estimate for revenue sits at $32.93 billion and the average EPS estimate came in at $0.26. I think those are both very beatable numbers, and I expect Ford to exceed on both revenue and EPS. Here's why. 

Looking at 2012 altogether, sales of the Focus and Explorer are up 40% and 16.7% respectively. The moneymaker, Ford F-Series trucks, was up 10.3%, a good sign for bottom-line profits as trucks carry the margin. More specifically, for this quarter's report, Ford had very strong November and December sales in the U.S. and China. For the company as a whole, it was its best December since 2006 with total company sales up 2%. Make no mistake, everything except Europe is going really well. We'll have a better understanding Tuesday how much Europe's dismal results affected overall profit.

Net income
If that's as far as you dig into the report, you won't be alone. If you want to dig a little deeper, follow along. One thing I'll be looking at closely is the quarter's net income. Ford has been trimming the number of platforms that all of its vehicles are produced on. By the end of the year, the plan calls for 85% of its global sales to be produced on nine platforms. It may be too early to see the benefits on the bottom line, but I believe that through 2013, we'll see income and net margin improve slightly. 

The reason I'm looking into net income now, is because vehicle transaction prices are at a record high while selling incentives for light vehicles were estimated to be 9% lower versus prior year, according to TrueCar. With company sales up, transaction prices at record highs, and incentives down, I'm hoping to see Ford's bottom line surge upwards. 

Debt repayment
Ford has done a fantastic job paying down debt since the recession. If you look into the quarterly debt repayments, it has a history of stepping up debt payments throughout the year. For the first three quarters in 2012 debt repayments was as follows: $9.8 billion, $20.1 billion, $25.1 billion. We have nothing to learn by guessing what the repayment will be, but by keeping an eye on trends in repayments we can feel confident Ford management has it under control. This will be more important in 2013, when the cash that could be used on repayments, will potentially shift to paying the recently increased dividend. 

Bold prediction
For the reasons I mentioned above, and more, I'm feeling confident that Ford will beat fourth-quarter earnings expectations. I'll even go out on a limb and say I expect it to beat average EPS estimates by nearly a dime, up to 35 cents a share. I don't think the good news will end there. With fresh designs of two of its best sellers, the Escape and Fusion, 2013 should see another year of strong sales. Not to be outdone, the Ford F-Series will be going for its 37th straight year as best-selling pickup and 32nd year as best-selling vehicle. One thing is for sure, Tuesday's earnings report will have an effect on Ford's recent rally, It'll be up to us to dig in and find why.  

Want one of our top equity analysts opinion after the earnings? This Foolish premium research report has an in-depth analysis on whether Ford is a buy right now, and also will be updated throughout the year. Simply click here to get instant access to this premium report.

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9/30/2016 2:42 PM
F $12.12 Up +0.15 +1.21%
Ford CAPS Rating: ****