The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) is trying to end a solid week on a positive note and is trading 147 points higher, or 0.92%, in midafternoon. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq both joined the Dow in positive territory, up respectively by 0.62% and 0.24%. In positive news, consumer sentiment held steady thus far into February from the previous month's number, according to preliminary findings from a Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan survey. The reading checked in at 81.2, which was ahead of analyst expectations. With those trends in mind, here are some companies making headlines today.
Ford (NYSE:F) has been posting strong results this week in important regions overseas. First up, America's second largest automaker said it posted a 53% sales increase last month in China from the first month of 2013. Ford then followed that sales report up with some good news today out of what has been a gloomy situation in Europe. Total vehicle sales in the 20 key European markets Ford tracks grew 9.2% last month compared to January 2013. Furthermore, Ford posted market share gains in total, retail share, and commercial vehicle share.
"Our sales and share growth -- particularly in the higher value retail segment of the market – speak to the strength of our new vehicles and products," said Roelant de Waard, vice president, marketing, sales, and service, Ford of Europe, in a press release. "We've launched 11 new vehicles over the past 15 months, and we'll launch more than 10 additional new vehicles in 2014 alone."
In addition to growing market share, Ford was able to improve its sales mix -- making its market share gains even more profitable. While fleet sales typically catch a bad rap, they are actually pretty profitable; it's sales to rental companies that are historically bad news and can lower margins and residual values.
Fortunately for investors, Ford's sales to retail and fleet customers in Europe increased 400 basis points to 78% -- that's 6 percentage points above the industry average. On the other side of the coin, that means its sales to rentals and dealer registrations, typically less desirable sales, declined to 22% of company sales last year.
In other manufacturing news, Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT) locked up a $22 million contract to upgrade helicopter software for Saudi Arabia. Lockheed will work on Modernized Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sensors for the Royal Saudi Land Forces' fleet of Apache helicopters.
"Saudi Arabia is the second international customer to establish an M-TADS/PNVS in-country Special Repair Activity. Providing test and repair capabilities for international customers greatly increases supply availability and maximizes Apache mission effectiveness," Lockheed Martin's Mike Taylor said, according to United Press International.
While a $22 million contract won't exactly move the needle for Lockheed or its investors, winning contracts internationally will be a big focus for the company going forward. Consider that Lockheed gets roughly 61% of its sales from the Defense Department and another 21% from other U.S. government agencies. That spells a huge problem as looming government budget cuts could slash as much as $1 trillion in defense spending over the next nine years.