Next up in Detroit's earnings parade: Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F), which will report its third-quarter results on Tuesday, Oct. 27.
What Wall Street says: Analysts expect Ford to report earnings of $0.48 per share on revenue of $35.44 billion. That's twice what Ford earned on a per-share basis ($0.24) in the third quarter of 2014, and an 8% increase in revenue.
Big investments in new products are starting to pay off
What accounts for the expectation that Ford will double its per-share earnings over last year's result? At this time last year, Ford was spending big money as it prepared to launch some crucial products. Those new products included an all-new Edge SUV, a revamped version of the popular Explorer SUV, and a brand-new and very different version the most important Ford of all, at least when it comes to the company's bottom line: The F-150 pickup truck.
Ford's two truck factories required extensive changes to manufacture the new-for-2015 F-150. That kept each of them closed for about 12 weeks in total, and one was already closed at this time last year. At that time, Ford was being careful with its supplies of 2014-model trucks because it didn't want its dealers to run out before it could supply enough of the new trucks to meet demand.
Long story short: A year ago, Ford wasn't selling as many pickups as it could have been, and it was spending big on revamping its truck factories, as well as gearing up for the SUV launches.
The story is very different now. Sales of the all-new Edge and refreshed Explorer have been booming for months, and dealers now have something close to full supplies of the all-new F-150s. Sales of the F-Series, which includes the F-150 and its Super Duty siblings, rose 8.4% in the third quarter. The gains were even better for the SUVs, as Edge sales rose 26.3% and Explorer sales jumped by 28.9%.
Those are all very profitable products. That should add up to a strong result for Ford's North America unit, which generates the bulk of the company's profits.
What about overseas?
In Europe, Ford has lost roughly $4.5 billion since the beginning of 2012. It has been working on a turnaround plan to cut costs, add new products, and improve its marketing. Losses have narrowed considerably, but Ford doesn't expect to get to consistent profitability until sometime next year. A third-quarter loss is very likely, and it could top $200 million.
Ford has done well in China over the past few years, the result of a $5 billion effort to build out a substantial presence in the world's largest new-vehicle market. But recently, new-vehicle sales have slowed. Ford's China management team did a very good job of scaling back production in time to deliver a good result last quarter, but we may see a more subdued one this time around.
South America has been difficult, as we saw in rival General Motors' (NYSE:GM) results this past week. GM lost $217 million in the region in the third quarter, largely because of big sales declines in key markets like Brazil and Chile, where recessions are under way. Unfavorable exchange-rate moves have also been a challenge for the General.
Ford has a hit new product in the region, the Ka city car, but the story (and the loss) is likely to be similar.
The upshot: Ford is on course, and surprises are unlikely
I think Ford's third-quarter result will come in slightly ahead of Wall Street's estimate. Ford's sales in North America have been very good, particularly when it comes to the company's most profitable products.
It's more of a mixed bag outside North America, but Ford's recent track record suggests that its local management teams are very good at reacting to shifting conditions. Overall, I think shareholders should be pleased with the progress that Ford is making. I don't expect any negative surprises when Ford reports on Tuesday.