Oofah! What else can you say when a company reports that it lost nearly $6 billion in a single quarter? That's exactly what Ford
Fellow Fool Seth Jayson outlined on Monday all that is wrong with this oozing, festering sore of a company, from the drop in top-line revenues down through a long and growing list of costs and expenses, on down to the glowing red bottom line. But where Seth sees ex-Boeing CEO Alan Mulally as a possible wunderkind to bring Ford back from the brink, I'm thinking he's got few options.
The loss was Ford's worst in some 14 years and brings the year-to-date total to $7.2 billion. Last year, it posted a profit of $1.8 billion. The company's going to have to lop off some of its prestige lines, like Jaguar and Land Rover, since losses in the unit (which also includes Volvo) widened to almost $600 million from $108 million the year before. Part of the failure is the extended warranties Ford offers, because the cars perform worse than anticipated. That's not really a surprise, since J.D. Power & Associates' "initial quality" survey published a few months ago had Volvo performing below average and Land Rover coming in dead last, with almost twice the industry average number of problems per car.
And will Carlos Ghosen, the head of Renault-Nissan
Ford's "Way Forward" plan to trim costs, reduce bloated employment levels, and become a more trim and fit car manufacturer has been stuck in neutral. While it aimed to cut $5 billion in costs, it also sought to carve out 10,000 white-collar jobs while at the same time offering buyouts to its entire 75,000-person workforce. It was blindsided by the surge in oil prices, and then did not move quickly enough to change focus when they remained high. It saw sales of its once-popular SUV and F-150 pickup lines plummet as consumers favored smaller, more fuel-efficient cars.
Sure, the company's got the small-car religion now. There are plenty of deathbed conversions. But with gas prices dropping again, will Ford be swinging too far the other way on the pendulum? It's also got to contend with car parts suppliers who are biting back after years of being treated like whipped curs. Car interior supplier Collins & Aikman forced the shutdown of one of Ford's assembly plants in Mexico last week in an attempt to get higher prices. While Ford ultimately relented, the company said that's the last time the supplier will get any of its business.
These woes have pushed Ford to take on more debt, even though it already has about $150 billion of it. While it also has $23.6 billion in cash in the bank, it expects to spend some $3.5 billion of it by year's end, and if its cash levels approach $15 billion it would be worrisome for suppliers. The credit rating agencies responded by downgrading Ford's unsecured debt, meaning unsecured debt holders would be at a disadvantage in the event of a Ford bankruptcy. And just to tweak things a little more, Ford also announced it would restate its financial results back to 2002 because of errors in accounting for hedging derivatives.
The "Way Forward" has seemingly become "No Way Out," and the dismal quarter was a shot to the solar plexus of Ford's new chief executive, Alan Mulally, who took over from William Clay Ford Jr. last month when he realized even he could not stop the car maker from careening out of control. Pow! Bif! Bam!
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