There has been a lot happening at Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F ) recently, much of which is being covered in popular news. It is absolutely important for investors to follow the events that make headlines, namely the recent recall and impending leadership change. Remember though, these issues are not inherently interesting to calm, cool, and collected investors. Rather, they are important only so far as they affect the underlying business of Ford. As these events play out, remain focused on what the business is currently doing, and what it likely will do in the future, given the unfolding events.
Ford making headlines
Ford has recently recalled more than 750,000 vehicles due to safety-related malfunctions. Though the American auto giant may never again face a disaster the size of its Explorer tire failure in the nineties, that tragedy is likely still in the minds of many investors and consumers whenever they hear "Ford recall."
It is easy to see how this event could hurt sales and Ford's stock price. It is also possible that there will be no additions to the current recalls, and that the problem will be solved efficiently, with customer worries alleviated. Keep an eye out for big hits to sales or else big-money lawsuits arising from any malfunction-related injuries, for which there is a strong precedent.
Alan Mulally is stepping down as CEO of Ford at the end of next month, and will be replaced by Mark Fields, current Ford COO. Mulally lead Ford through an almost invaluable transformation over the last eight years or so, and personally I think that he is one of the best CEOs of the last decade. Although Fields has worked closely with Mulally, and has been preparing for his role as CEO for years, it is possible that Mulally will leave a void in progressive and innovative leadership that Fields will not be able to fill. Pay attention to how Ford reacts to changing customer preferences, changing regulations, or even new competition under Fields.
Ford's current position
Again, while these events are important, it is the underlying business that we ultimately care about. Let's look at how Ford is doing right now, so that we have a baseline with which to compare developments in the near future.
With a quick search on Ford's investor page, we find their recently published first-quarter figures, and using their archived files we can compare them to last years' first quarter.
First, Ford operating figures are all down in first quarter 2014 from first quarter 2013. Pretax profit is down about a third, as is net income. When second quarter figures are released, investors should compare them to the previous year's results, and see if the gap is widening or closing. Second, Ford seems to be in a more stable position to start 2014 than a year before: auto-related cash flows have nearly doubled, and Ford is holding over a billion more dollars in cash.
Looking at sales, Ford currently holds 15.1% of the U.S. market, which is second behind General Motors (NYSE: GM ) , which holds 18.3%. At this time last year, Ford held 16.5%, and GM 18.5%. Normally I would say that a well-publicized recall, like that one Ford is dealing with right now, would lead to a significant decline in market share moving forward, which it very well might in this situation, but as GM is currently dealing with a much more severe recall of its own, Ford may actually gain some ground on GM in the months to come.
When following a big company in the news, it can be difficult to decide whether the underlying business is affected by one event or another. Generally, a change in CEO or a safety malfunction leading to a massive recall will definitely affect the business. Because the new CEO has been hand-selected by the outgoing CEO, given a lot of time to prepare, and has a lot of experience within the company, the change in leadership may not have a noticeable impact at Ford. Likewise, as this recall is small in comparison to previous Ford recalls, and also compared to GM's current recall, it may not have a large impact on Ford's business. Only by tracking Ford's performance over the next several months will you know for sure.
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