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Ford's Huge Debt Problem

By Daniel Miller - Apr 5, 2013 at 2:00PM

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Ford has a huge debt problem, but it probably isn't what you think. I'll break it down and explain why the misconceptions about Ford's debt have to end now!

There is a huge problem with Ford's (F 2.64%) debt, but it isn't with the debt itself. Rather, it's with the average investor completely misunderstanding Ford's debt number. Nearly every day I'm reminded how many people out there still believe that Ford has $100 billion in automotive debt. That is false! It makes me shake my head and sigh. So here I am trying to spread the word and squash the misconceptions about Ford's debt. I'm also recruiting you all to help the world invest better by reminding each person you see that the majority of Ford's $100 billion is making Ford extra money! For those of you who aren't sure what makes up the $100 billion, please read on.

Automotive debt
At the end of the third quarter in 2012, Ford's automotive debt sat at $14.2 billion. That's the number that needs to be brought up when discussing debt from company operations. Sometimes a little knowledge can be dangerous. In this case, investors doing their due diligence and opening up a 10-K can read through the long-term debt numbers and then reflect that they can't invest in a company with so much debt. The fact of the matter is that people don't know what they don't know. There isn't a little asterisk that directs one to a note stating most of the $100 billion is under Ford's financial division. 

Financial division
Ford's financial division is unlike anything found in its competitors. It takes on huge loans at low interest rates and dishes it back out to consumers at higher rates, then takes in a fair profit. If you follow the auto industry then you know how much doom and gloom is talked regarding Europe's vehicle sales. Companies are losing money by the bundle -- Ford estimates it will lose at least another $1.7 billion this year. Here's something you might not know: In 2012, Ford's finance division raked in $1.7 billion in pre-tax profit on over $7 billion in revenue. That equaled the loss in Europe, yet no one mentions that! Instead, people see the $100 billion and wrongly assume it's the same old, terribly managed, Detroit company that has way too much debt. 

Debt levels are fine
While $14.2 billion is no small number, it's nothing that Ford can't handle. Consider that in 2006 Ford took on more than $18 billion in debt to help restructure the company while taking massive losses. Between 2006 and 2008, Ford managed to lose over $30 billion from its operations. Nobody wanted to buy a Ford vehicle then, nobody. Things are completely different today. The Fusion is changing consumer attitudes and the Escape is selling like hotcakes. 2013 has started off with a bang in automotive sales, and Ford is taking full advantage of it. The company was confident enough in its financial shape to double its dividend a few months ago. There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic in Ford as a company and in having its stock in your portfolio. So the next time you hear someone mention that its $100 billion in debt is too much, enlighten them, please. Thanks in advance.

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