Ford Narrows Loss to $282 Million

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Ford Motor Co. (F) on Thursday posted a first-quarter net loss of $282 million, a vast improvement over the $1.4 billion it lost in the first quarter of 2006.

It was the company's seventh consecutive quarter of losses, but the automaker said the smaller deficit reflected its restructuring efforts aimed at cutting costs in the face of fierce competition from Asian automakers.

Ford's revenue rose 5 percent, its loss excluding special items was smaller than Wall Street expected and its shares rose nearly 10 percent in premarket trading. CEO Alan Mulally said Ford was making progress.

The loss of 15 cents per share for the January-March period compared with 76 cents per share in the same period a year ago.

Revenue rose to $43 billion from $40.8 billion a year ago.

Without special items, primarily restructuring costs, Ford said it would have lost $171 million, or 9 cents per share, in the latest quarter compared with an operating profit of $223 million, or 12 cents per share, a year ago.

The loss excluding special items was far less than Wall Street estimates. Sixteen analysts polled by Thomson Financial expected a loss of 60 cents per share. Those estimates typically exclude special items.

"We are making progress on executing the four priorities of our plan — restructuring the company, accelerating product development, funding our plan and working effectively as one team," CEO Mulally said in a statement.

"Our first quarter results came in somewhat stronger than expected, but there are many uncertainties going forward."

Ford is trying to fend off Toyota Motor Corp. (TM) to keep the title of the nation's No. 2 automaker. Ford lost $12.7 billion last year and is in the midst of slashing thousands of jobs, closing plants and rolling out new products in an effort to return to profitability.

Its U.S. new vehicle sales were down more than 13 percent for the quarter, due in part to its effort to reduce low-profit sales to rental car companies. Ford said that decline held down its results.

But the company said its improved revenue was a result of a better mix of cars and trucks, as well as favorable currency exchange.

In January, Mulally said the restructuring plan, which includes a 29 percent reduction of its total North American work force by 2008, was ahead of schedule.

Ford shares rose 77 cents, or 9.8 percent, to $8.65 in premarket trading.