It's earnings season! Veteran investors know what that means: A slew of quarterly reports from public companies of all sizes.
For long-term investors, a single quarterly earnings report doesn't usually mean a whole lot. It's the trend over time that really matters. Any one report might lead to some near-term volatility -- and while that can be good or bad, it doesn't much matter for someone whose horizon is measured in years.
But that said, it's important to keep an eye on one's investments if only to spot trends (or changes in trends) as they emerge. Ford (NYSE:F) is set to report its third-quarter earnings on Oct. 27. Here's what Ford investors should be looking for when the Blue Oval releases its report.
On average, analysts are expecting Ford to post earnings of $0.48 per share on revenue of $35.44 billion. That would be exactly double Ford's $0.24 per-share earnings in the year-ago quarter, on a 8% increase in sales.
Ford's net income in that year-ago quarter was just $835 million. That wasn't a surprise: Ford had warned that high expenses related to a heavy schedule of new-product launches would mute its earnings.
Now, a year later, investors will be looking to see if Ford has started reaping the benefits of those new products. Ford executives have been guiding to a strong second half of 2015: Will the company be able to deliver?
Truck sales: Finally on track
One of the big costs a year ago was the extended downtime at Ford's Dearborn Truck Plant. The busy factory was closed for several weeks so that Ford could make the extensive tooling changes needed to build the all-new 2015 F-150. Not only was the tooling and work very expensive, but Ford also took a hit from all of the trucks it couldn't produce and sell while the factory was closed.
Ford builds the F-150 in two factories. Dearborn was up and running at the end of November. The other one, near Kansas City, went through a similar conversion early in 2015. Both are now up and running at full speed, and production has finally (almost, at least) caught up with hot demand for Ford's new aluminum-bodied pickup.
Both of those things -- the hot demand, and the fact that Ford's factories are now able to meet it -- bode well for Ford's third-quarter earnings results. The F-150 is probably Ford's biggest single generator of profits worldwide.
Ford missed out on several months of high demand for pickups because of its short supplies, but its dealers had enough trucks to post very strong sales results in August and September. That alone should mean good things for Ford's profit in North America.
And as Ford investors know, North America is the "engine" of Ford's global finances.
Will strong SUV sales boost margins again?
Supplies of the F-150 were limited last quarter. That meant flat sales. But Ford managed to deliver an outstanding 11.1% operating profit margin in North America despite weak truck sales -- thanks to its SUVs.
Along with the all-new F-150, Ford also has an all-new Edge SUV and an overhauled version of the Explorer. Both new SUVs have been at dealers for several months now, and both continued to generate big sales numbers through the third quarter.
Profit margins on vehicles like SUVs and pickups are generally much heftier than profits on sedans. With U.S. demand for SUVs and trucks exceptionally strong, and Ford's current product lineup very well positioned to take advantage, a margin below 10% in North America would be a surprise.
How bad will it be overseas?
The likely good news in North America will likely be mitigated somewhat by challenges in Ford's overseas units, just as we saw in the first half of 2015.
China's economic slowdown has brought growth in new-vehicle sales to a screeching halt. That was expected to be a problem for Ford last quarter. But Ford did OK in China, in large part because its executives caught on to the impending slowdown early enough to reduce production and spending in anticipation. Will it play out the same way this time around? We'll be looking closely.
In South America, difficult economic conditions have made it rough going for Ford. But the company has a long-term commitment to the region. It reduced its loss last quarter, after some pricing boosts (to offset local inflation) and cost cuts. Ford's all-new Ka, a minicar one size smaller than the Fiesta, has been a big hit in the region despite the economic challenges. It gave Ford a boost last quarter and could do so again.
In Europe, Ford is working on a major overhaul that was set in motion by former CEO Alan Mulally back in 2012. Current CEO Mark Fields is determined to see it out, and Ford officials say that the company remains on track for a full-year profit in 2016. Ford Europe essentially broke even last quarter (a loss of just $14 million), but CFO Bob Shanks warned that normal seasonal effects will likely make for bigger losses in the second half of 2015.
The upshot: It should be an upbeat quarter
Fields and Shanks have been saying for a while that the second half of 2015 would be when we start to see the returns from Ford's heavy investments in new products. We got a taste of that last quarter when the Edge and Explorer helped power a better-than-expected gain. Now that the F-150 is up to full speed, it's a good bet that -- barring any surprises -- the bottom line will look at least as good as Wall Street expects this time around.