What happened

Ford's (F 1.36%) stock had a rough 2018, but the Blue Oval's shares began 2019 with a bang. According to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence, Ford's share price rose 15% in January. 

To some extent, Ford's January rise can be explained as a partial rebound after a big sell-off in December. But while Ford's share price is still quite low, there's a growing sense among investors that CEO Jim Hackett may finally have the company headed in the right direction.

A dark red 2020 Ford Explorer Limited, a 7-passenger midsize crossover SUV.

The all-new Explorer is one of several new Fords set to arrive in 2019. Image source: Ford.

So what

One of the things we learned in January was that Ford's 2018 earnings were dismal. External factors such as exchange rates and higher steel prices were part of the problem, but Ford's own woes in China and Europe were also partly to blame. 

A bar chart showing Ford's adjusted earnings per share from 2009, when it was just $0.01, through 2018, when it was $1.30.

If we set aside 2014's result, when Ford spent nearly $2 billion to launch its all-new F-150 pickup, Ford's adjusted earnings per share in 2018 were lower than at any time since 2009. Data source: Ford.

Happily for Ford shareholders, another thing we learned during Ford's guidance presentation and earnings call in January is that Ford's leaders think the worst is behind them. Ford spent 2018 laying the groundwork for a major overhaul of its business in China, and putting together a plan to return Europe to sustainable profitability. 

Now, in 2019, Ford will begin executing on those plans, while continuing with its effort to boost profitability in North America and beginning work on a revamp of its business in South America. Ford will also launch several new products this year, including all-new versions of the big-selling Explorer and Escape, that are expected to boost its transaction prices and margins. 

Simply put, after a year of struggles, Ford investors now have a good idea of where the company is headed -- and there's a lot to like about the plan.

Check out the latest Ford earnings call transcript.

Now what

CFO Bob Shanks made it clear that some of those external headwinds, like Brexit, will still be a factor in 2019. That's why Ford's guidance for the year is deliberately vague: Ford can't yet say how much improvement it'll see by the end of 2019, but it's now confident that things are on the right track.