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Morgan Stanley's widely followed auto analyst predicts Ford's earnings could be cut in half

  • "We believe that Ford's earnings outlook may need to be reset as much as 50 percent lower over the next 18 to 24 months," writes Morgan Stanley's Adam Jonas.
  • Jonas cites issues such as a lineup of vehicles that needs to be refreshed, investment in new technologies and slowing auto industry sales.
  • Ford spokesperson Dan Barbossa says, "We have not changed our guidance."
Ford Motor Company president and CEO James Hackett
Rebecca Cook | Reuters
Ford Motor Company president and CEO James Hackett

Ford shareholders could be in for a rude awakening.

Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas sent a stark warning in a research note to clients: "We believe that Ford's earnings outlook may need to be reset as much as 50 percent lower over the next 18 to 24 months."

Jonas said new Ford CEO Jim Hackett may have to slash Ford's profit forecast due to a variety of issues weighing on the company's near-term outlook. These include a current lineup of vehicles that needs to be refreshed, investing in future transportation technologies and slowing sales for the auto industry overall, he said.

Ford spokesperson Dan Barbossa told CNBC, "We have not changed our guidance." He added that the company is focused on speeding up decision-making and areas of the business that are underperforming or destroying capital.

If Hackett and his management team guide Wall Street to expect lower earnings, it would be the third time in the last nine months the automaker has cut its outlook. In September, the company reduced its 2016 earnings expectations due to higher recall costs. Two months later it slashed guidance for 2017 pretax profits by $1.5 billion, citing a number of factors including a drop in residual values for used cars.

Ford posted its second-most profitable year ever in 2016, earning a pretax profit of $10.4 billion.

However, slowing profits in the first quarter, an inability to move faster developing new technologies such as autonomous-drive vehicles, and a stock price hovering near a five-year low prompted Ford to replace Mark Fields as CEO in late May.

His replacement has been tasked with getting the company back on track. The former CEO of Steelcase is well aware of the need to shore up Ford's bottom line. When Hackett addressed reporters after being named Ford CEO, he talked about his responsibility to improve the automaker's financials. "Our returns, and getting cost of capital out of every initiative is a really important notion, and it is not going to fall by the wayside," he said.