DETROIT – Rising unemployment and an uncertain economy have led to a higher number of motorists unable to pay their car loans, helping lead to much bigger losses at Ford Motor Co.
Some analysts said Ford's loan policies led them into trouble.
"Ford has not been as conservative as GM (General Motors) has been with regard to reserves for bad debt," said Nick Lobaccaro of Lehman Brothers, adding that Ford's financial predicament is the result of some poor policy decisions.
The Dearborn-based automaker said Wednesday it expected to report a loss of 50 cents per share, before one-time items, for the last three months of the year.
"Since September, there's been a sharp deterioration of economic conditions contributing to higher delinquencies and credit losses," Ford chief financial officer Martin Inglis said during a teleconference with financial analysts and reporters.
As a result, Ford is boosting credit loss reserves, and Ford Credit will not pay a dividend of $100-$150 million in the fourth quarter to the parent company.
"If not for the need to increase the credit reserve, Ford would have missed (its original fourth quarter expectations) by just a couple of cents," Lobaccaro said. "Ford dabbled in sub-prime more than competitors. Consequently, it is feeling the effects."
Previously, Ford said it expected an improvement from its third-quarter loss of 28 cents per share, although turning a profit would be difficult. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial/First Call had been expecting a loss of 14 cents a share for the quarter.
David Healy, an analyst with Burnham Securities Inc., said he is uncertain whether other automakers will feel the pinch as much as Ford. But he added that the company is taking a conservative approach in talking about potential losses now.
"I do think that Ford is in a situation where they are going to have large losses and large one-time write-offs in the fourth quarter, and I think there might be a desire to get the bad news out there," Healy said.
Efraim Levy, the senior industry analyst for Standard and Poor's Equity Group, said other automakers also will see increased default and delinquencies on their loans. "However, they many not be as severely impacted or may take a different approach to recognizing such credit losses," such as waiting longer to establish reserves, he said.
GM spokesman Jerry Dubrowski said the company's financial arm maintains a very conservative approach to credit loss reserves. He said GM has not seen any kind of significant delinquencies and does not anticipate making earnings adjustments because of them.
"We aren't experiencing or seeing the same kinds of issues that Ford is," Dubrowski said.
James Ryan, a spokesman for DaimlerChrysler AG's financial services arm, said the company's retail business has seen a slight increase in delinquencies, while its lease business has seen improved performance in the September to December period.
"In any kind of economic downturn, you're going to see an increase," Ryan said. "We're not seeing a severe increase."
To make matters worse for Ford, more loan defaults also mean more repossessions — resulting in a glut of used vehicles back on Ford's car lots, Lobaccaro said. Prices on the used car market are currently depressed, resulting in less revenue for the company, he said.
To try to stem the losses, Inglis said criteria for granting financing is being tightened, which may mean some prospective borrowers who barely qualified in the past will be refused.
He said there was no correlation between the zero-percent financing offer and the rising number of loan defaults.
"Most of those loans are good," he said. But marketing costs related to the program to boost sales in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks have been higher than expected and will be pared, he said.
Inglis said the company would announce details of its overall restructuring plan in mid-January, sometime before fourth quarter results are reported on Jan. 17.
The warning follows an announcement Monday that Ford will reduce retirement and health benefits for 45,000 white-collar workers and lay off 630 people to save about $300 million a year.
Ford has been plagued by eroding sales, questions about vehicle quality and the ongoing Firestone tire crisis.
Ford's U.S. sales in November — released Monday — rose by 5 percent over November 2000, but year-to-date sales still were 6.6 percent below those for the first 11 months of last year.
In the third quarter ended Sept. 30, Ford lost $692 million versus a profit of $888 million in the same quarter a year earlier, when it earned $888 million.
In October, Jacques Nasser was ousted as chief executive and replaced by William Clay Ford Jr., the company chairman. The management shake-up also included the elevation of Nick Scheele to chief operating officer.
Ford announced in August it would cut 4,000 to 5,000 salaried positions by the end of 2001.
In afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange, Ford shares were down 5 percent, or 91 cents, at $16.83.