Ford (NYSE:F) -- yes, that Ford -- posted a profit of $2.3 billion for the quarter. That's $0.69 a share, compared with a loss of $3.89 a share for the same period last year.

Think about that for a second.

If you've followed the tribulations of the American automakers over the last year -- and unless you've been in a Zen monastery, the news has been hard to miss -- the idea that one of the Once-Big Three turned a profit is hard to believe.

Should we believe it?

Well, no, not quite
To be fair, Ford's press release is completely up-front about the fact that that $2.3 billion includes "special items" worth a net total of $2.8 billion. Without these special items -- most of which are simply fancy ways of saying that Ford swapped some of its debt for equity and cash and made some one-time cuts -- Ford lost $0.21 a share.

That's not great in absolute terms, but it's not bad -- analysts were expecting a $0.50 per-share loss, and it's way better than last year's numbers. Ford has cut costs, gained market share with some great products, and has an impressive pipeline, and management is still predicting a return to (genuine) profitability by 2011.

So it's a buy, then?
I'm skeptical. The company is a long way from being out of the woods. I think anyone considering an investment in Ford right now, much as I like it as a long-term recovery story, has to ponder a few points:

  • Supplier drama. Any interruptions in Ford's parts supplies would stop its affected factory lines within hours, and many leading suppliers are in deep trouble. Seatmaker Lear and Ford spinoff Visteon are already in bankruptcy. Tier 1 giants Johnson Controls and Magna (NYSE:MGA) are so far faring better, but there's drama brewing there as well.
  • Dilution. They've got to keep servicing all that debt, and -- following the lead of companies from Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) to DryShips (NASDAQ:DRYS) -- a stock offering may be on the way.
  • The competition. Nissan (NASDAQ:NSANY), Toyota (NYSE:TM), and Honda (NYSE:HMC) are all in better financial shape than Ford, and after their warp-speed trips through bankruptcy court, General Motors and Chrysler arguably are as well.

Ford's products and pipeline are strong, but are they strong enough to compensate for the company's ongoing financial weakness? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.