Ford Raises Outlook Despite Lagging Automotive Operations

Buoyed again by strong results at its financial services arm, Ford Motor Co. (F) swung to a profit of $266 million in the third quarter even though its worldwide automotive operations lost $609 million. The company also raised its full-year earnings guidance.

The nation's second-biggest automaker said Tuesday it earned 15 cents a share in the July-September quarter, compared with a loss of $25 million, or 1 cent a share, a year ago.

Excluding special items, Ford's third quarter earnings amounted to $537 million, or 28 cents a share, compared with a profit of $278 million, or 15 cents a share, a year ago.

The 28 cents a share in the most recent quarter doubled the consensus estimate of 14 cents from Wall Street analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call.

Lower production in the quarter hampered Ford's automotive business, but overall results were lifted by net income of $734 million at Ford Motor Credit Co. (search) , up $230 million from a year ago.

Don Leclair, Ford's chief financial officer, said the company remained on track to deliver its 2004 milestone of $1 billion in automotive pretax profits, excluding special items.

"Our results show continued strong performance in financial services and continuing improvement in North American revenue, even though the market remains difficult," Leclair said.

The $609 million loss on the automotive side, excluding special items, was a deterioration of $61 million from a year ago.

Special items included a $23 million charge for restructuring at the troubled Jaguar division and $41 million related to the revaluation of Ford's investment in Ballard Power Systems (search), a fuel cell manufacturer.

Worldwide automotive revenue rose to $32.8 billion from $30.2 billion in the same period a year ago.

In North America, Ford's automotive operations lost $481 million, excluding special items, down $373 million from a year ago. The company said it was hurt by unfavorable exchange rates and lower production volumes.

In South America, Ford posted a pretax profit of $59 million, an $85 million improvement from a year ago.

Ford Europe narrowed its loss to $33 million, excluding charges, versus a loss of $400 million in the year-ago quarter.

The company's luxury Premier Automotive Group reported a pretax loss of $171 million, compared with a pretax loss of $24 million a year ago. The decline primarily reflected vehicle launch costs, particularly at Land Rover (search), and unfavorable exchange rates.

Ford Asia-Pacific reported a $35 million profit, an improvement of $32 million from a year ago.

Ford increased its 2004 earnings guidance to a range of $2 to $2.05 a share from continuing operations, excluding special items. That's up from a previous forecast of $1.90 to $2 a share.

For the first nine months of the year, Ford earned $3.38 billion, or $1.66 cents a share, in contrast to $1.29 billion, or 68 cents a share, a year ago. Revenue was $126.4 billion versus $118 billion a year earlier.