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Ford's Third-Quarter Earnings: A Preview

By John Rosevear - Oct 21, 2012 at 10:00AM

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What to expect when the Blue Oval reports next week.

Ford (F -2.28%) is set to report third-quarter earnings in just over a week, on Oct. 30. What should investors expect?

Unlike last quarter, when the Blue Oval's managers gave investors a heads-up on wider-than-anticipated losses in Europe, Ford hasn't issued any new guidance since the quarter ended on Sept. 30. That's probably good news, as Ford tends to get any potential bad news out early.

But what will Ford's results look like? Recent trends give us some clues. Let's take a look.

How the quarter will look, region by region
During last quarter's earnings call, CEO Alan Mulally said that Ford's full-year profit will be "strong, but lower than 2011's." My sense of what that means for the third quarter, looking at the trends, is that Ford is likely to post solid profits driven by good results in North America, but overseas challenges will continue to weigh. Here's how I expect it to break down:

  • North America. This is the "engine" of Ford's business, as Mulally often says. While Ford sells vehicles all over the world, the bulk of its profits come from the United States, where it has a big established presence and is able to get good margins. Last quarter, Ford earned a bit over $2 billion here, thanks to popular products that drove strong margins. Ford's U.S. sales have continued to be solid, and reduced incentives spending should help boost margins a bit, but costs associated with the launch of the new Fusion sedan -- one of Ford's most critical products -- may cut a bit into the overall result.
  • South America was just barely profitable last quarter, as lower sales and unfavorable exchange-rate swings cut into the Blue Oval's results. The company is in the process of launching several new models in the region, which will help results long-term, but it may be too early to see much of an impact. I expect another roughly breakeven performance here, with improvements likely to come in the first quarter of 2013 if local economies cooperate.
  • Asia-Pacific/Africa. Ford has had nice results in China lately, as it has been able to make hay while Japanese rivals Toyota (TM 0.82%) and Honda (HMC 1.00%) suffer in the wake of a China-Japan dispute. Sales in Russia have also been solid, up 13% in the third quarter as Ford's Focus continues to be one of Russia's best-selling cars. But ongoing investments in new factories and infrastructure in Asia are likely to once again keep net profits modest. While this region is likely to drive big earnings growth for Ford in the future, significant results are probably still a couple of years away.
  • Europe, where Ford lost $404 million last quarter, is likely to get hit hard again. Ford's determination to hold the line on pricing and stay out of the discounting war being waged by Volkswagen (NASDAQOTH: VLKAY.PK), Fiat (NASDAQOTH: FIATY.PK), and others in Europe is the right move, and consistent with the "One Ford" approach that has driven such good results elsewhere. But in the short term, the result is that Ford is losing market share in a big way: Through September, Ford's sales were down 15% over year-ago results, and the company's European market share fell to 8.7% in September from 9% a year ago. Not all the news is bad: Ford is still the No. 2 brand in Europe, results in the important U.K. market have been solid, and the Fiesta continues to be one of Europe's best-selling cars. But the bottom line is likely to be grim.

What else to expect
Mulally and CFO Bob Shanks may use the third-quarter earnings call to shed a little more light on the company's efforts to restore its European operation to profitability. Mulally has dropped several hints -- for instance, that Ford plans to introduce a bunch of new products in segments it hasn't historically contested in Europe, like SUVs. But as with General Motors' (GM -1.95%) European operation, most analysts expect one or more of Ford's European factories to end up on the chopping block, and it's possible that we'll learn a little more about those plans during the call.

Fool contributor John Rosevear owns shares of Ford and General Motors. Follow him on Twitter at @jrosevear.The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Ford and General Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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