Ford CFO: Business Is Great Beneath the Headlines
Despite what seemed to be a solid quarter underneath the guise of some one-off charges that put a hefty dent in Ford’s earnings, investors took Ford to task on Friday in the New York Stock Exchange after its quarterly earnings missed expectations due to warranty costs, weather-related expenses, and other one-time expenses. Throughout trading, the stock remained about 3.3 percent, or $0.53, below Thursday’s closing price.
A big question whether the was the sell-off warranted. This, naturally, depends on who you ask — many investors apparently felt that, since they didn’t see the numbers they expected, it wasn’t worth sticking around. Closer examinations, however, reveal that beneath the nearly $1 billion erosion in Ford’s quarterly expense report (which on the surface admittedly looks alarming), the company’s underlying operations seem to be perfectly healthy. To gain some more insight into the company’s quarter, we spoke with Ford’s chief financial officer, Bob Shanks, after the report was released.
“It was a solid quarter, and the thing we were trying to convey today is that you put aside for the moment the things that we highlighted around the warranty reserves, the weather, the balance sheet [foreign] exchange effects, you know we had a very strong run rate of the business,” Shanks said in a telephone interview with The Wall St. Cheat Sheet. “North America has an operating margin of 7.3 with everything, and when you take out the warranty reserves — which isn’t something that happens day in and day out — we were up at about 10 percent, which is a really fantastic run-rate.”
North America wasn’t the only bright spot for Ford’s quarter, too. Asia Pacific is operating at record levels, having “reported a first quarter pre-tax profit of $291 million, an improvement of $319 million compared with a year ago, and a record for any quarter,” Ford said in its statement. “The improvement is more than explained by favorable volume and mix and higher royalties from joint ventures. Higher costs, including investment for future growth, were a partial offset.”
Europe is coming along nicely too. “Europe was very encouraging, because it did have headwinds in Turkey, and Russia, and sort of the broad issues around the world,” Shanks said. “But it still reduced its losses by more than half, and we had growth in share, growth in revenue and growth in volume, so very encouraging results there.”
When asked if he — and Ford, by extension — had any longer-term concerns, with weather, warranty costs, and so on aside, Shanks said that since the rollout of the company’s twenty-three new models globally is on track and progressing well, the company is setting up for a very positive year.
“All the global product launches are on track, including the new F-150, many of those launch in the second half of this year, and I think that just sets us up for the growth possibilities in 2015 and beyond, so I think that’s a positive.”
Often when a new model is released, demand leading up to its showroom debut may wane as people hold off on their purchases, to wait until the new model is available. We asked Shanks if he believed that this might happen with the F-Series, the best-selling vehicle line in America for a long while.
“When you get towards the end of a product cycle of a particular model, you’ll either see volume come down or an increase in incentives; sometimes it’s a combination of both,” Shanks explained. “And when you get to the new product, there’s a sharp increase in demand and in revenue. The thing that’s interesting about the F-Series at the moment is we had the same share year-over-year, and we’re actually doing better on the transaction prices, than what we would have expected, and when you look at the 2014 F-150, it’s actually the highest in the segment.”
“What we are seeing, though, is that there’s a shift down to lower Series, and part of that is that the consumers who buy the richer, higher Series will tend to wait, at this point, for the new product,” Shanks said. “So you will start to see an adverse ‘Series mix and option effect’ is what we call it. We did see that over the quarter, but what we think will happen over the rest of the year is when you look at the whole lineup, we will have Series mix and options mix, but it will be offset by stronger product mixes.”
This isn’t just a new truck, though. The new F-150 will have a new body sculpted of military-grade aluminum alloy, making it far lighter, but in some truck circles, its raised some suspicious eyebrows by those who don’t feel aluminum is rugged enough to replace steel. “I wonder if they fly,” Shanks said, referring to the aluminum alloys used to build aircrafts. Touché.
Shanks doesn’t believe that that school of thinking will be a significant factor for pickup shoppers moving ahead. “We’ve done a lot of research, we actually had some aluminum versions of the current models out in the field with the fracking guys, or the oil guys and whatever, and we didn’t tell them that it was aluminum. The products performed fabulously,” he said gleefully.
“The aluminum we’re talking about, it’s military-grade aluminum,” he said. “It’s very, very strong.”