Track the companies that matter to you. It's FREE! Click one of these fan favorites to get started: Apple; Google; Ford.



3 Reasons Ford's Stock Could Rise

Strong pickup sales helped power Ford's turnaround. They could also power one of the next phases of Ford's growth. Source: Ford Motor Co.

Ford (NYSE: F  ) has had an impressive run over the last several years. A dramatic turnaround in North America has pushed the stock up nearly ten-fold from its early 2009 lows.

Ford's products compete very well here in the U.S., and profits have been strong. But Ford — a global company — is still very much a work in progress. That ongoing work means there may still be opportunities for investors.

While there's no guarantee that Ford's stock will rise significantly from current levels, here are three factors that could push Ford's stock even higher in the not-too-distant future.

Reason 1: Huge growth in China
Good news: Through the first six months of 2014, Ford's wholesale deliveries in China rose a whopping 35%, with 549,256 vehicles sold, as the company's aggressive expansion effort continued to find ready buyers.

But Ford's profits in its Asia Pacific region, which includes China, were a relatively modest $450 million over the same period. Why weren't they higher?

It's because Ford is aggressively reinvesting a lot of its earnings in the region. The company is in the midst of a massive expansion in Asia that is expected to cost about $5 billion by the time it's completed in a year or so. 

Ford sales have absolutely boomed in China. The Focus is one of the country's best-selling cars. Source: Ford Motor Co.

Right now, there are five Ford factories under construction in China and India (which is growing into a major export hub for Ford), as well as a slew of new facilities to support distribution to Ford's fast-growing list of Chinese dealers. 

That investment is taking a big bite out of Ford's profits. But that's OK: Once this investment cycle is complete, Ford's Asia Pacific region could add $2 billion or more to the Blue Oval's bottom line every year. 

In 2013, Ford made $8.6 billion before taxes, with its Asia Pacific Africa region (as it was then called) contributing just $415 million. If Asia Pacific Africa had instead contributed $2 billion, that would have increased Ford's pre-tax result by over 18%.

Assuming that China's new-car market stays healthy and continues to grow as expected, there's  a very good chance we'll see a boost like that over the next couple of years.

Reason 2: A turnaround in Europe
Ford's European operation lost $1.75 billion in 2012, $1.6 billion in 2013 — and the company has warned that it will post another loss in 2014.

But that loss will be smaller, Ford says, and the company expects to turn a profit in the region in 2015.

What's going on? Is Europe on an economic upswing?

To some extent, it is — new vehicles have risen from last year's two-decade lows, but they still remain well below pre-recession levels. But even if they stall again, Ford should be able to eke out a profit next year — thanks to an elaborate restructuring plan that is now hitting its stride.

Ford's Fiesta, overhauled last year, remains one of Europe's top-selling cars. Source: Ford Motor Co.

Ford's plan for Europe has serious credibility with investors, because it's essentially the same game plan used by former CEO Alan Mulally and his team to fix Ford in North America over the last several years. It involves cost cuts -- Ford has closed two factories in the U.K., and a third in Belgium is set to close later this year -- as well as a slew of new models drawn from Ford's global product portfolio.

In the past, Ford's European product portfolio had been limited. But now, the company will offer more of its global products in Europe, including the Edge and the Mustang. By competing in more market segments, Ford will win more sales even if the market dips

Ford expects to post a profit in Europe in 2015. I've spoken to both CEO Mark Fields and CFO Bob Shanks about that target, and I can tell you that they are both very confident that it will be hit.

As I noted above, Ford made $8.6 billion before taxes in 2013 -- despite a $1.6 billion loss in Europe. If Europe had just broken even last year, that would have increased Ford's pre-tax profit by almost 19%. 

Reason 3: Ford is shaking up its most important product
This one is a big deal, and I should warn you up front: It could turn out to be a mixed blessing for Ford.

Ford's decision to make a radical change to the product that CEO Fields calls its "family jewel," the F-150 pickup, is a giant bet that could reshape the U.S. pickup market.

Ford's F-150, along with its Super Duty siblings, are America's best-selling vehicle line -- and Ford's most profitable by far, with margins believed to be in the range of 25%, possibly more. 

Put another way, at an average selling price of around $40,000, that's $10,000 in profits per truck, give or take -- and Ford sold over 63,000 in July alone.

Nothing in Ford's global product portfolio generates anything like that much profit, month after month, year after year. And that makes Ford's decision to make the all-new 2015 F-150's body out of aluminum instead of steel a very big bet indeed.

It looks like just another brawny Ford pickup, but it's dramatically different from the current model: The all-new 2015 F-150 features an aluminum body, a first for a full-sized pickup. Source: Ford Motor Co.

It's clear why Ford is doing this: U.S. fuel-economy standards are tightening, and lighter-weight vehicles get better fuel economy. Ford says that in some configurations, the new F-150 will be as much as 700 pounds lighter than the current model. It hasn't released fuel-economy figures yet, but it has hinted at substantial gains.

That's a big deal. And it could mean a big boost in sales for Ford, as commercial-fleet buyers and individual consumers decide that a more fuel-efficient truck is a good idea -- and as rivals scramble to keep up. (Rival General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) won't shift its trucks to aluminum until 2019, and Fiat Chrysler (NASDAQOTH: FIATY  ) says it's taking a wait-and-see approach with its Ram pickup line.) 

But there are a host of risks. Building a vehicle body out of aluminum requires different tooling and techniques than steel, and no automaker (anywhere, ever) has ever attempted to build aluminum-bodied vehicles at the rate that Ford builds pickups. 

There's another concern: Aluminum is more expensive than steel. But Ford's price increases for mass-market versions of the new F-150 are quite modest. Will those fat profit margins take a hit? Or will Ford end up raising its prices in time -- and will future increases cost it sales?

And finally, there's this: Will pickup buyers -- who tend to be a pretty conservative lot -- go for an aluminum pickup? 

Ford is confident they will. If the new trucks are launched without a hitch, and if the fuel-economy increases pan out -- two big "ifs," admittedly -- the company could see its already-dominant share of the most lucrative market segment of all grow further. 

And while it's hard to quantify, that could turn out to give Ford's earnings in North America a substantial boost in time.

The upshot: Ford is on a solid course
There's a lot that could go wrong, of course -- if the U.S. were to slide into another recession, Ford's profits would be squeezed.

But Ford right now is a stable, well-run company with a strong balance sheet, competitive products, and big opportunities to increase profits overseas.

And good management counts for a lot: Even with a seemingly risky bet like the new aluminum F-150, there's a good reason to think Ford executives are holding a winning hand, even if we haven't seen all the cards yet: This management team's past bets, starting with Ford's dramatic North America turnaround, have paid off nicely so far.

Warren Buffett's worst automotive nightmare (hint: It's not Tesla Motors!)
A major technological shift is happening in the automotive industry. Most people are skeptical about its impact. Warren Buffett isn't one of them. He recently called it a "real threat" to one of his favorite businesses. An executive at Ford called the technology "fantastic." The beauty for investors is that there is an easy way to ride this megatrend. Click here to access our exclusive report on this stock.

Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On August 15, 2014, at 7:54 AM, Margundo wrote:

    Businesses advisers will be hard pressed to recommend any truck other than Ford when the cost savings favor Ford. I would hate to be the fool who had to answer to the companies CEO if another truck is chosen and profit margins suffer.

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2014, at 5:56 PM, SkepikI wrote:

    <But Ford right now is a stable, well-run company with a strong balance sheet, competitive products, and big opportunities to increase profits overseas.

    And good management counts for a lot>

    A pretty complete article but you saved the most important reason above for last...

    Leadership and management that can and WILL execute to resolve ALL its major problems while improving cash flow and profits is exceedingly rare.

    The last major issue, which I keep pinging you to mention is the slaying of the last Dragon, the unfunded or underfunded Pension Liabilities... how goes that? Better I warrant since the market recovery....

Add your comment.

Sponsored Links

Leaked: Apple's Next Smart Device
(Warning, it may shock you)
The secret is out... experts are predicting 458 million of these types of devices will be sold per year. 1 hyper-growth company stands to rake in maximum profit - and it's NOT Apple. Show me Apple's new smart gizmo!

DocumentId: 3068640, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 8/30/2015 4:17:24 PM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...

John Rosevear

John Rosevear is the Fool's Senior Auto Specialist. John has been writing about the auto business and investing for over 20 years, and for The Motley Fool since 2007.

Today's Market

updated 1 day ago Sponsored by:
DOW 16,643.01 -11.76 -0.07%
S&P 500 1,988.87 1.21 0.06%
NASD 4,828.33 15.62 0.32%

Create My Watchlist

Go to My Watchlist

You don't seem to be following any stocks yet!

Better investing starts with a watchlist. Now you can create a personalized watchlist and get immediate access to the personalized information you need to make successful investing decisions.

Data delayed up to 5 minutes

Related Tickers

8/28/2015 4:01 PM
F $13.74 Up +0.18 +1.33%
Ford CAPS Rating: ****
FIATY $0.00 Down +0.00 +0.00%
Fiat S.p.A. (ADR) CAPS Rating: ****
GM $29.00 Up +0.42 +1.47%
General Motors CAPS Rating: ***