Automobile manufacturers such as Ford (NYSE: F ) , General Motors (NYSE: GM ) , and Chrysler have realized a resurgence since the recession ended in 2009. Ford seemed to have outperformed its rivals out of the gate, but recent data suggests that Ford may be losing market share to the competition.
Ford unlike its competitors in April
Ford reported that sales dropped 1% year over year in April to just short of 142,000 vehicles. Edmunds.com had projected that Ford's sales would increase 4.6% in April. Ford's competitors, meanwhile, did not see corresponding sales declines. General Motors reported that sales in April increased 7% from the prior year to just over 254,000 vehicles. Chrysler, which is now a division of Italian company Fiat, reported a 14% increase to 178,652 vehicles sold.
Ford's recent results foreshadowed April declines
In the first quarter of 2014, Ford reported net income of $989 million, or $0.24 per share -- a drop of $622 million from 2013's first quarter. Revenue increased $300 million, from $35.6 billion in 2013's first quarter to $35.9 billion in the opening three months of this year. Ford's results for the quarter were negatively affected by safety recalls, declines in the number of vehicles sold, and decreased revenue in North and South America. The number of cars sold in North America decreased 2% and revenue dropped 5%. South America declines were even harsher: the number of cars sold fell by 8% and revenue decreased 18%
In sharp contrast to those numbers, the number of vehicles sold in Europe increased by 11% and revenue rose by 18% in 2014's first quarter. Meanwhile, vehicles sold in the Asia-Pacific increased by 32%, with a 45% increase in China alone in the same quarter.
It is important to note that Ford's first quarter income was affected negatively by factors unrelated to its underlying business. First, the automaker recorded a $122 million expense related to its ongoing efforts to restructure its European business. Given its performance in Europe in the quarter, Ford is doing a good job of transforming its business on the continent. Second, Ford's results were adversely affected by exchange rates when converting South American currencies to U.S. dollars. Furthermore, a vast portion of Ford's expenses in the quarter were related to marketing and promotion expenses related to its new vehicles. Ford reported that these charges decreased its income by about $900 million or $0.17 per share. Therefore, investors should not get too worried about Ford's underlying business of producing quality cars.
While the U.S. business continues to have the greatest effect on Ford's results, the company is reaping benefits from its expansion in foreign markets and is diversifying its business model.
Chrysler's first-quarter 2014 revenue increased by 23%, to $19 billion from $15.4 billion in the year-ago period. The number of vehicles sold also increased by 10% to 621,000, from 563,000 in the year ago period. Its U.S. market share rose to 12.5% from 11.4% in 2013's first quarter.
General Motors' revenue for the 2014 first quarter increased to $37.4 billion from $36.9 billion, while its market share in the U.S. declined from 17.7% to 17%. GM's continuing recall woes hurt earnings per share, which fell to $0.06 in 2014's first quarter from $0.58 in the year-ago period.
In all, Ford's competitors at home were either taking share from the Blue Oval or increasing their revenue by other measures.
A big departure
Ford announced earlier this month that CEO Alan Mulally would step down in July, to be replaced by COO Mark Fields. Mulally led Ford through the financial crisis and ensuing recession, and he famously turned down government bailout funds even as General Motors and Chrysler were forced into bankruptcy and bailed out by Washington. Mulally's departure from the top spot is a big loss for Ford, and Fields will have a tough job in filling his shoes.
Can Ford bounce back?
Ford remains one of the most recognized names in automobiles, and in business in general. The company is also an emblem of America's industrial past and its continuing ingenuity. It does, however, have to compete with rivals both foreign and domestic.
The company under Mulally generated a lot of goodwill with the American public for its actions during the financial crisis. It should take advantage of this and aim to refresh those strong feelings, particularly the pride in a company that did not need a bailout. Further, Ford should get aggressive in its marketing as its top domestic competitor, General Motors, deals with its major recall issues.
Ford's investors should not be too worried as its revenue actually increased in the quarter and the company remains highly profitable. As an automaker, its fortunes are tied to economic cycles, but Ford is not showing signs of a drastic down tick in sales and ensuing losses. Its sales dropped in the Americas, but Ford's business in Europe and Asia-Pacific picked up by a wide margin. As mentioned earlier, its sales in China jumped by almost 50% in the quarter compared to last year's quarter. Moreover, Ford is expanding its operations and diversifying its car sales around the globe. Therefore, Ford's recent results are not a harbinger of misfortunes on the way.
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