Ford Swings to Profit Thanks to Finance Unit

Ford Motor Co. (F), the nation's second biggest automaker, said Thursday it swung to a profit of $104 million in the fourth quarter from a loss of $793 million a year ago, when it incurred heavy charges for restructuring in Europe and a new agreement with its top supplier hurt the bottom line.

As its larger rival General Motors Corp. (GM) announced a day earlier, Ford said its finance arm contributed the bulk of its income while its automotive business lost money in the quarter.

The fourth-quarter profit amounted to 6 cents a share compared with a loss of 43 cents a share in the October-December period a year ago.

Excluding special items, Ford earned $555 million, or 28 cents a share, in the quarter, down 7 percent from a year ago but ahead of Wall Street forecasts. The consensus of analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call was for earnings of 27 cents a share.

Revenue for the quarter was $44.7 billion, down from $45.9 billion a year ago.

Ford shares fell 27 cents, or 2 percent, to $13.66 on the New York Stock Exchange (search) Thursday.

Ford said record earnings at the financial services business and improved automotive profits helped lift full-year earnings.

For all of 2004, Ford earned $3.5 billion, or $1.73 a share, a dramatic increase from a profit of $495 million, or 27 cents a share, in 2003.

Excluding special items, Ford's full-year earnings from continuing operations totaled $4.3 billion, or $2.11 a share. That compares with year-ago earnings of $2.2 billion, or $1.13 a share.

Ford's full-year profit was identical to the consensus of Wall Street analysts.

Full-year revenue for 2004 was $170.8 billion, up $7.2 billion from $163.6 billion last year.

"In 2004, our company gained momentum, delivering more revenue and earnings, more new products and more innovative breakthroughs," chairman and chief executive Bill Ford (search) said in a statement. "We also confronted operation challenges with our Jaguar brand and high industry marketing costs."

The company offered no earnings forecasts, but Bill Ford said "we're going to build on our successes as we launch more new products in 2005 and beyond."

Ford Motor's top executives are scheduled to disclose 2005 earnings milestones at a meeting Tuesday in New York.

For the full year, Ford's worldwide automotive sector earned a pretax profit of $850 million, up from $153 million a year ago. The improvement reflected favorable net pricing and cost performance but was offset by unfavorable volume, mix and currency exchange.

In the fourth quarter, however, Ford's global automotive operations reported a pretax loss of $470 million, compared with a $13 million profit last year.

For the full year, excluding special items, Ford's financial services sector reported a record pretax profit of $5 billion, up $1.7 billion over 2003, driven by strong profits at Ford Motor Credit Co. and the Hertz Corp.

For the most recent quarter, excluding special items, the financial services sector earned a pretax profit of $1 billion, an improvement of $144 million from a year ago.