This Auto Stock Jumped 31% While You Were Watching Tesla's Slump

While Tesla fell, this former Foolish favorite has been rising.

John Rosevear
John Rosevear
Jun 20, 2019 at 9:04PM
Industrials

Longtime highflier Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) has had a tough 2019. Although its share price has bounced a bit recently, the Silicon Valley automaker's shares are still down about 33% from the beginning of the year -- 22% in May alone -- on concerns about slumping demand, a series of deep cost cuts, and a big first-quarter loss.

Those concerns may grow. CEO Elon Musk has promised repeatedly that sustainable profitability will soon arrive. But 9 years and counting after Tesla's initial public offering, it remains elusive.

Many auto and technology investors have been obsessing over the innovative electric-vehicle upstart's growing troubles. But recently, some have been returning to an old favorite: Shares of Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) have risen about 31% so far in 2019.

What's driving that? I'm glad you asked.

F Chart

F data by YCharts.

Why Ford's stock slumped from its postrecession highs

To understand why Ford's stock price is up in 2019, we should review why it slumped from its strong levels earlier in the decade. Simply put, while Ford posted strong sales and profit growth after the Great Recession, culminating in an all-time record pre-tax profit in 2015, investors have had concerns:

  • Ford's costs were growing almost as quickly as its revenue, limiting its ability to take full advantage of strong truck and SUV sales.
  • Ford's high-volume crossover SUVs, the Escape and Explorer, were both strong entries when launched. But they were outpaced by competition as they aged, and Ford has been slow to refresh them.
  • Ford squandered a strong start in China after its local management team misread the market and fell behind faster-moving rivals' product cycles.
  • Ford was talking a lot about future technologies like self-driving and electric vehicles, but it had little to show for the talk.

Those concerns all contributed to the ouster of CEO Mark Fields in May 2017. His replacement, Jim Hackett, said that he would launch a "redesign" of Ford's global business to improve its "fitness" and position it well as future technologies become mainstream.

But he gave few specifics, and Wall Street analysts were skeptical -- until recently.

A 2019 Ford Expedition, a large, very profitable SUV.

Ford's renewed focus on high-profit products like SUVs is already helping to boost margins. Image source: Ford Motor Company.

Why Ford's stock has been rising in 2019

Two things have changed: First, Hackett and his team have recently been much more forthcoming about their specific plans for "redesigning" Ford. Second, while there's still much more to be done, Ford's last two earnings reports have shown Wall Street that Hackett's changes are beginning to bear fruit:

  • Hackett's decision to focus on higher-profit SUVs and trucks while reducing investment in traditional sedan and hatchback models has begun to boost margins without costing Ford significant market share.
  • Ford has significant restructuring efforts under way in Europe and South America. There's still much to do, but it's already paying off: Ford Europe swung to a profit in the first quarter after a year of losses, and there are clear signs of improvement in South America.
  • Ford's China operation has been a train wreck. But a new management team -- with far more local knowledge and expertise than their predecessors -- has already made progress, reducing losses and rebuilding troubled relationships with key dealers. Again, there's much more to do, but it's clear that improvements are happening.

Long story short: Wall Street is feeling much better about Ford's prospects than it was, and that's why the Blue Oval's stock price has been rising in 2019.