There's no question among investors that Ford Motor Company's (NYSE: F ) business turnaround since the Great Recession has been extremely impressive. There's also no question that Ford has plenty of positive catalysts in the near term; those include a slew of new vehicle launches in its money-driving North American market, significantly lower debt and pension obligations, and potential dividend increases. In addition to those short-term drivers, there are also a handful of potential catalysts to boost Ford's stock price in the long term. Here are two for investors to keep an eye on.
One big knock against Ford since the Great Recession has been its dependence on North America for the vast majority of its profits. Obviously, that's a huge risk for Ford, as it is for any other company so dependent on one region, since an economic downturn could take place unexpectedly. Fortunately, there are some very positive developments for Ford and its investors overseas that will lessen the automaker's dependence on any one region.
Let's start with a market Ford investors likely haven't paid much attention to, but that will be important to Ford's long-term success: India.
Ford announced Tuesday that its vehicle sales in India for the month of August hit a record high of more than 14,000 units sold. That's a whopping 27% increase over last year's August, and Ford India's growth in exports, which more than doubled compared to the same time last year, continue to be a bright spot for the automaker.
Currently, Ford India won't move the needle for the company's overall financial performance. However, IHS Automotive predicts that India's automotive market will become the world's third largest as soon as 2016, trailing only China and the United States.
On top of potentially explosive sales growth, India is also important to Ford because of its location. With India's close proximity to the rest of Ford's Asia-Pacific region, where Ford is undergoing its largest industrial expansion in 50 years, it will be a focal point for Ford's production and exports to fuel the region's sales outside of China.
In addition to India, Ford is also making vast improvements in larger markets as well, especially Europe and China.
Ford Europe stole the show during Ford's second-quarter presentation by posting a meager $14 million pretax profit. It doesn't sound like much, but believe me, investors were enthralled to see a $14 million profit compared to the roughly $3.5 billion lost in Ford Europe's operations since the beginning of 2012.
Now, while Ford's second quarter in Europe was a breath of fresh air, the only thing guaranteed is that the automaker will indeed suffer nearly $1 billion of losses when all is said and done for 2014 -- that's the bad news. The good news is that Ford plans to unleash 25 new models in Europe over the next five years, which will continue to boost top- and bottom-line financial performance.
Meanwhile, as Ford's operations in Europe continue to struggle, the automaker is surging in the world's largest automotive market: China.
As you can see in the graph above, Ford's sales through July have risen 33% compared to the same time frame last year. The good news is that Ford's aggressive launch schedule, which will roll out 15 new models in China by the end of next year, will keep double-digit sales increases a consistent theme. Also, Ford expects its Asia-Pacific region, in which China is by far the biggest market, to account for nearly 40% of company revenues by the end of the decade -- compared to under 10% today.
As Ford's international expansion continues to chug along, it offers investors a long-term vision for success. Here's another long-term catalyst for Ford investors.
Another knock against Ford has been its all but dead luxury brand: Lincoln. Lincoln's failure to produce popular vehicles has been a constant focal point for Ford doubters, especially after Ford sold off its Jaguar and Aston Martin brands before the Great Recession.
However, with Lincoln's new MKZ impressing consumers and the all-new MKC just arriving at dealerships, there's reason to hope for a brighter future. Through July, Lincoln sales are up 16% compared to the same time frame last year -- a figure that will likely move higher as MKC sales are purely incremental and will increase through the back half of the year as additional supply reaches dealerships.
Another positive catalyst is that Lincoln will debut in China this year, an untapped market for Ford's luxury lineup. Make no mistake, Lincoln starting from scratch in China will take many years, if not decades, to bear fruit, but it will be very important for Lincoln's future success.
Currently, Lincoln is far from aiding Ford's overall top- and bottom-line performance. However, since luxury lineups offer more lucrative profit margins, higher transaction prices, and a way to keep loyal Ford buyers within the overall company as they step up to more expensive luxury brands, Lincoln's long-term turnaround will be a huge catalyst for Ford investors.
Yes, it will take quite a while for Ford's sales and exports in India to move the needle. Yes, it will perhaps take decades for Lincoln to accelerate sales in China. Yes, losses in Europe will continue to hurt earnings for the rest of the year. However, Ford is making clear and profitable progress internationally and is taking the right steps to turn around its struggling luxury lineup. If Ford continues to accelerate its progress on these two strategic points over the next decade, long-term investors should be well rewarded for their patience.
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