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Ford earnings swing to profit, but miss Wall Street's target

  • Ford's fourth-quarter earnings missed analyst expectations, driven in part by higher commodity prices and unfavorable foreign exchange rates.
  • The company is battling a perception that it is behind rivals on new mobility technologies, such as self-driving cars and electrified power trains.

Ford said Wednesday its quarterly results swung to a profit in the fourth quarter, but fell shy of analysts' expectations. The second-largest U.S. automaker blamed the miss in part on rising commodity prices and unfavorable foreign exchange rates.

The company expects higher commodity prices to continue to affect finances in 2018. Ford is not yet as "fit" as some of its industry peers, Ford executives said on a conference call on Wednesday.

Here's how the company did compared with what Wall Street expected:

  • Adjusted EPS: 39 cents vs. 42 cents expected, according to Thomson Reuters
  • Revenue: $41.3 billion vs. $36.99 billion expected., according to Thomson Reuters

Fourth-quarter net income was $2.4 billion, or 60 cents per share. A year-ago, Ford posted a loss of $781 million.

On an adjusted basis, the company earned 39 cents a share, which missed analyst expectations of 42 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters.

Ford reported $41.3 billion in revenue, up 7 percent from a year ago, and higher than the $36.9 billion analysts were expecting.

Adjusted pretax profit was $1.7 billion in the latest period, driven by Ford's North American business and by Ford Credit. Pretax profit alone at Ford Credit was $610 million, up 53 percent over the same quarter last year, the company said.

Ford's North American business gained market share over the same quarter of 2016, driven by sales in the U.S., particularly sport utility vehicles.

However, North American profits were lower, due to the costs of launching new Expedition and Lincoln Navigator models.

Pretax losses in South America narrowed compared with the fourth quarter of 2016, thanks to better macroeconomic conditions. It was the fifth consecutive quarter of improved operating margin and pretax results in the region, Ford said.

In Europe, higher warranty and commodity costs and the effects of Brexit contributed to lower margins and pretax profits. Commercial vehicle market share improved in the region though.

Ford's pretax profits in the Asia-Pacific region fell, in part due to lower pricing across the industry and reduced sales volume in China.

"Our balance sheet remains strong and we are focused on improving the company's fitness to strengthen future results," said Ford CFO Bob Shanks. "We remain committed to providing value to our shareholders including expected distributions totaling about $3.1 billion in 2018."

Ford is spending aggressively as it tries to transition from only making cars to selling a wide variety of transportation and mobility services and products. Ford has said it is relying on sales of high-margin trucks, crossovers and SUVs to fund the development of new technologies, such as autonomous vehicles and electrified powertrains.

Among other things, Ford plans to invest up to $11 billion in electrified vehicles by 2022, the company said earlier this month.

Ford also made several investments in mobility tech throughout 2017. It announced last year it will invest $1 billion in autonomous technology company Argo AI over the next five years. The company also said in October it would invest in Silicon Valley start-up Autonomic, which Ford plans to use to make a software platform for delivering transportation services.

"In 2017 we made tremendous progress in laying the foundation for our strategy — smart vehicles in a smart world — from accelerating our connected vehicles plans to expanding our AV and EV work," said Ford CEO Jim Hackett. "As we move into 2018, we are intensely focused on improving the operational fitness of our business to deliver strong results while continuing to build toward our vision of the future."