Europe and South America Cannot Stop Ford Motor Company (F)

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Ford (F) General Motors Company (GM)If there is one company that has passed the test of time it is Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F). There is absolutely nothing that can stop this US auto giant. Earlier it had proved its grit by surviving the recession without having to resort to bankruptcy like its peers. And now it is again showing its heart of steel as it continues to combat the challenges of an uncertain economy in Europe and South America.

The earnings beat

Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) is playing a solid inning on its home turf, which has compensated well for everything that it has lost in Europe and South America. The result is a stellar first quarter performance, beating all analyst expectations.

Ford reported an 11.1% rise in its automotive revenue, which increased to $33.9 billion. This was on a 10.2% increase in wholesale volumes, coming in at 1.5 million units. It earned pre-tax profits of $1.6 billion or $0.41 per share, handsomely beating consensus estimate of $0.37.

While Ford’s earnings are definitely something to cheer for, there are a few things that go beyond a good quarter performance.

Investments in the future

The company invested an incremental $900 million in structural costs. Around 40% of this increase in structural costs was in the form of investments in engineering for new products and promotions. Another 30% were related to the additional capacity of 400,000 units that were added after the first quarter of 2012.

It is commendable that the company is reinvesting so much back into the business instead of settling for very high short term margins. Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) margins remain an impressive 11% in North America.

Platform optimization

This is another part of CEO Alan Mulally’s signature ‘One Ford’ plan. Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) will be building as much as 85% of its total vehicles on just nine global platforms. This will not only optimize engineering investments and earn economies of scale but wwill also make new roll outs easy.

With numerous product launches planned across the globe the importance of this strategy cannot be emphasized enough. In China Ford will be introducing 15 new models through 2015 as part of its 15/15 plan. Europe and South America will all see new launches to combat tough market conditions there.

It has always been Ford’s strategy to keep revamping its models to ensure that it has a young fleet and interest levels around its vehicles remain high.

Market share gains

The company has made good market share gains in the core US markets and also in China. Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) estimates its market share in North America to be around 15.9% in the first quarter, up from 15.2% last year.

This is quite significant, because the US auto industry is going through a period of growth, increasing by about 6% in the first quarter. The current market share gains will go a long way for the future prospects of the automakers in quieter times.

Meanwhile, in China Ford has increased its market share by 30% to about 3% and is aiming to grow this to 6% by 2015 and 7.5% by the end of the decade.

The situation in Europe and South America

Europe remains messy, although management insists that the restructuring plan is on track. It is true that Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) has already launched new models like B-Max, Fiesta, Fiesta ST, Kuga, and Explorer and more will follow. It has also closed three plants last year, which reduced 18% capacity.

But during the quarter revenue declined 7% and losses went up to $462 million. Ford’s problem is that it is rapidly losing market share. By its own estimates market share has fallen to about 7.7% this quarter from 8.5% a year ago. This makes it doubly difficult for Ford to turn around this business. The company has re-affirmed its guidance for a $2 billion loss this year.

In South America the economic conditions and currency headwinds will keep the market challenging. Even if the company breaks even by the end of the year as planned, it is unlikely that at any time in the recent future it will go back to its heydays when the region was contributing $1 billion in pre-tax profits.

To keep an eye on GM and Toyota (NYSE:TM)

General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) and Toyota Motor Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:TM) sell many more vehicles worldwide than Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F). But the latter has had the most impressive volume growth of the three. In comparison to Ford’s 10.2% growth in the first quarter, General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) witnessed a 3.6% increase while Toyota Motor Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:TM) declined 2.2%.

General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) has been putting up a solid performance in North America driven by the robust demand for Buick and Cadillac. It has gained 0.5% market share in the first three months of 2013.

The company is doing very well in China and has announced a new strategy for the country. It is planning to open four more plants by 2015 together with its joint venture partners. It will launch as many as 17 new models this year and will try to bolster its Cadillac demand by locally producing one model from the range each year through 2016.

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