Ferrari growth slows — and owners cheer

Good news for Ferrari owners wasn't quite so good for the automaker's shareholders.

On Tuesday, the newly public Ferrari said in its fourth-quarter earnings release that it shipped 7,664 cars last year, and plans to ship around 7,900 in 2016. That represents growth of 6 percent for last year, with projections for a smaller 3 percent increase in 2016.

Investors balked at the automaker's guidance, sending Ferrari's U.S. shares down nearly 13 percent in afternoon trading. But while its limited production forecast was disappointing to growth-hungry investors, it had the opposite effect on Ferrari owners, who had been concerned the company would ramp up production to boost profits. That would make make the car less exclusive, and therefore less valuable for resale.

On Ferrari's conference call, Chairman Sergio Marchionne said the company will continue to follow founder Enzo Ferrari's mantra: Building fewer cars than customers want. He added that despite the company's modest sales projections for 2016, it has a "strong backlog of orders."

For 2016, Ferrari expects revenue to remain essentially flat, hitting 2.9 billion euros ($3.17 billion). That compares to 2.85 billion euros in 2015. During the fourth quarter, Ferrari's revenue fell slightly, to 744 million euros, and net profit slid to 55 million euros from 79 million euros.

China was partly to blame for its weakness, as shipments in Greater China — a big driver of the automaker's revenue in recent years — fell 10 percent in 2015. But the Americas were also weak during the fourth quarter, with shipments there falling 9 percent during the final three months of the year.

Ferrari also had a problem with its sales mix. The company has recently had huge success with its sprightly V8 cars — namely, the new 488 GTB, the 458 Speciale A and the California T.

Ferrari's line Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Calif., to celebrate it's 60th year anniversary in North America.
Harriet Taylor | CNBC
Ferrari's line Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Calif., to celebrate it's 60th year anniversary in North America.

However, it can make more money on its pricier V12-engine models, which aren't selling as well. That's because the current versions are late in their product lives. Sales of V8s were up 17 percent in 2015, while shipments of V12s were down 24 percent.

Yet with Ferrari, what's bad for shareholders may be good for Ferrari owners and buyers. Most importantly, Marchionne allayed any lingering fears among Ferrari purists that the company would build an SUV to pump up sales.

"You would have to shoot me first," he said.

Welcome words to Ferrari owners — but perhaps not to investors.