Stocks are broadly higher today despite a disappointing earnings release from Ford (NYSE:F) and news that consumer confidence unexpectedly fell in January to the lowest level in more than a year. At roughly halfway through the trading day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) is up by 57 points, or 0.41%.
Consumer confidence tanks
Data released this morning from the New York-based private research group The Conference Board estimated that consumer confidence fell precipitously this month. The index it uses to gauge sentiment dropped eight points to 58.6 in January, down from 66.7 in December, effectively erasing all of 2012's gains.
The source of discontent, according to the research group, revolves around higher payroll taxes. According to Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at The Conference Board: "Consumers are more pessimistic about the economic outlook and, in particular, their financial situation. The increase in the payroll tax has undoubtedly dampened consumers' spirits and it may take a while for confidence to rebound and consumers to recover from their initial paycheck shock."
While the decline was significantly worse than forecast by economists, who had predicted a median fall of 2.7 points, it's consistent with other estimates. In the week ended Jan. 20, the Bloomberg Consumer Confidence Index fell to the lowest level since early October. And the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan index recently dropped to its lowest point since the end of 2011.
According to a market analyst quoted by Bloomberg News, "The thing that's particularly troubling is the sizable decline in expectations. As those expectations deteriorate, it doesn't bode particularly well for day-to-day consumer spending."
Ford shows strength at home but struggles abroad
On the earnings front, the biggest name to report earnings today was Ford.
For the final quarter of 2012, the automaker posted generally solid figures. As my colleague John Rosevear discussed this morning, the company reported a quarterly pre-tax profit of $1.7 billion, or $0.31 per share, which was well ahead of the $0.26 consensus estimate. This was notably the highest fourth-quarter pre-tax number for the company in over a decade.
A deeper analysis of the results, however, reveals two different stories. On the domestic front, Ford had a fantastic quarter. Its North American unit posted a record pre-tax operating profit of $1.87 billion. This was roughly double the comparable figure from the year-ago period, but down from the $2.3 billion that it posted in the third quarter.
In Europe, meanwhile, the company lost $732 million on a pre-tax basis for the three months ended Dec. 31. The results will likely accelerate its previously announced plans to cut capacity on the ailing continent by 18% in the foreseeable future.
Ford's results in this regard match that of its rival General Motors (NYSE:GM). Due to similar performance, the automaker upped the date when it will close a German factory, moving the closing from 2016 to 2014. The announcement, however, was met with resistance from the country's powerful labor union, who called the plan "unacceptable." To read more about this, check out John Rosevear's discussion here.
On the heels of Ford's earnings release, its shares are trading down by nearly 6%. Shares of General Motors are down by 1.5%.
Fool contributor John Maxfield has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not 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.