In a last-minute voting turnaround, workers at Ford (NYSE:F) voted to accept a new four-year U.S. labor contract, the United Auto Workers (UAW) announced late on Friday.
Just over half (51.4%) of the workers voted to approve the agreement, which until Friday had appeared to be going down to defeat. But a last-minute push by the UAW leadership at Ford's Dearborn factories won just enough votes to ratify the deal.
Now, the big question: How much will this new contract cost Ford?
A definite increase in Ford's U.S. manufacturing costs
Like similarly structured contracts negotiated by the UAW with General Motors (NYSE:GM) and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (NYSE:FCAU), Ford's new labor deal gives newer workers significant raises over the next several years in order to bring them in line with well-paid veterans. The veterans get (more modest) raises, too, and there are bonuses and profit-sharing agreements that add up to a fairly rich contract. Ford's contract is somewhat richer than the agreements at GM and FCA, mostly due to differences in the bonuses, but it's similar. That's good for Ford's workers.
How will it impact Ford? Officially, we don't know. Ford CFO Bob Shanks said last week that the company would give more information about the new contract's costs at some point after it was ratified. As I write this on Tuesday, that hasn't happened yet. But the independent Center for Automotive Research (CAR) estimates that Ford's U.S. hourly labor costs will rise from about $57 under the old agreement to $60 by the end of the new one. That translates to just under $200 in added costs per vehicle, according to CAR figures cited by Bloomberg.
So, what does that mean for Ford's profits? Let's take a quick back-of-the-envelope look.
How will that increase impact Ford's profit margins?
There's no way for us to calculate the exact amount of profit Ford makes on vehicles built in the United States. Some of the Fords and Lincolns sold in the U.S. are built in Canada and Mexico; their costs won't be affected by the new U.S. labor agreement. But there are a couple of ways we can calculate a very rough, ballpark estimate of how much Ford is making per vehicle.
First, we can take Ford's pre-tax profit in North America for the third quarter (about $2.67 billion) and divide it by the number of "wholesale shipments," meaning vehicles sold to dealers, that Ford made in the region (about 771,000). That suggests a profit of about $3,463 per vehicle sold in North America, which includes Canada and Mexico.
If we want to try to narrow it down to the U.S., we can look at the average selling price of Ford's vehicles in the United States, and then use its overall pre-tax profit margin for North America to get an idea of how much the company makes on an average vehicle. That's not perfect, but it might be a little closer.
TrueCar analysts say that the average transaction price of the Fords and Lincolns sold in the U.S. in September was $35,051. Ford's operating profit margin in North America was 11.3% in the third quarter. That suggests Ford made something in the neighborhood of $3,961 per vehicle.
If we reverse that calculation, we can see that $200 decline in that profit would have lowered Ford's pre-tax margin to about 9.3%. That's not as good as 11.3%, but it's still healthy, and it's in line with Ford's long-term targets. (And the reality is, the impact will probably be less than that, because it's confined to products made in Ford's U.S. factories.)
The upshot: Some of that increase will be offset in time
Ford will probably look for ways to offset that $200 per-vehicle increase in costs. Some are already planned: The new contract provides incentives for the most highly paid veterans to retire next year; that will help offset some of the increases given to newer hires. Ford is also planning to shift production of some lower-profit models to Mexico, while bringing higher-profit trucks and SUVs to its U.S. plants.
In the near term, Ford's margins are likely to be dented a bit. But Ford executives have told us that margins in North America would be a little more subdued in the future than we saw last quarter.
Long story short, there will be an impact, but it will be relatively minor, and it wasn't unexpected. Ford investors have nothing much to worry about, here.