Ford (NYSE: F ) releases its third-quarter results Thursday and will likely have a solid report for investors to eat up. Wall Street will hope to see improving revenues, margins, and profits, but I'll be looking for losses. Specifically, I mean the losses in Europe that continue to drag billions of Ford's annual profit into oblivion.
Ford has estimated it will lose about $1.8 billion on the continent this year, and simply breaking even by 2015 represents the quickest way to juice its earnings per share. I think Ford may have been cautious with that loss estimate and could surprise Wall Street by posting smaller losses in Europe.
"I can't say that I see major signs of an uptick, but it does feel like it's running at the bottom," said Stephen Odell, Ford of Europe CEO, according to Automotive News.
When that quote brings a sense of optimism to those in the auto industry, you know it's been a rough go of late. Odell is correct, though: Ford lost $810 million through the first half of 2013 and is on pace to lose less in Europe than its $1.8 billion estimate, and less than its $1.7 billion loss in 2012 -- marking the bottom of the auto giant's losses.
Ford continues to see sales growth in its traditional 19 European markets and that could help narrow losses quicker than predicted. Ford's total vehicle sales grew by 4.6% in September, which marked its fourth consecutive month of sales growth. Ford's retail market share tallied its eighth consecutive month of gains as it rose 1% to 9.5%; its year-to-date retail market share increased to 8.4%.
One reason I believe Ford could have improved profits in Europe over the last three months, and narrowed its losses, was its changing sales mix.
Ford and other domestic automakers continually take criticism regarding their fleet sales, but most people don't fully understand the situation. Investors often think of "fleet sales" as a disease to profits, but that's not always the case. Fleet sales can be profitable for automakers when managed properly; it's the sales to rental companies and dealer self-registrations that are generally less healthy for brand reputation and residual values. With that in mind, consider this snippet from Ford's press release: "Compared to September 2012, Ford sales to retail and fleet customers increased eight percentage points to 77 percent of total sales, four percentage points better than industry average. At the same time, Ford reduced sales to rental companies and dealer self-registrations to 23 percent from 31 percent a year ago."
In addition to Ford's improved sales mix, it remains the second-best-selling vehicle brand this year in Europe. The company's move to take out roughly 18% of capacity in the region should leave it well positioned to improve profitability.
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