Strong U.S. Sales Help Propel Ford 4Q Profit Higher

Scott Eells/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesFord CEO Alan Mulally. DEARBORN, Mich. — Ford Motor Co. enjoyed one of the best years in its history in 2013, but the celebration won’t last long.

Ford (F) has already warned that profits will be down this year as it launches a record 23 vehicles and builds seven plants around the world. It’s anticipating 13 weeks of down time — up from five in 2013 — at its two U.S. pickup truck plants to prepare for the introduction of a new aluminum-clad F-150. And instability in South America and price competition in the U.S. are constant threats.

“This is sort of a preparation year, as we consolidate the gains of the past and prepare for even stronger growth in the future,” Ford’s Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks told reporters Tuesday.

In 2013, though, Ford powered to a full-year profit of $7.2 billion, or $1.76 a share. On a pretax basis, Ford made $8.56 billion, its second-highest pretax profit in a decade after the $8.8 billion in earned in 2011.

Full-year revenue rose 10 percent to $146.9 billion.

Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford posted record pretax profits in North America and Asia. Full-year North American profits were up 5 percent to $8.8 billion, thanks in part to big demand for Ford pickups as the U.S. economy improved. Ford was the only major automaker to see a double-digit U.S. sales gain, at 11.7 percent.

Because of Ford’s strong North American performance, its 47,000 U.S. hourly workers will get about $8,800 each in profit sharing payments on March 13, up from $8,300 in 2012, the company said. That’s a record amount.

Unionized workers at Ford, General Motors (GM) and Chrysler all agreed in 2011 to take profit-sharing over pay raises. The checks at Ford will be the highest in the industry.

Ford also grew at a fast clip in Asia. Its sales jumped 49 percent to more than 935,000 in China thanks to new vehicles like the EcoSport and Kuga SUVs. Ford earned a record $415 million in its Asia Pacific and Africa region last year.

Ford narrowed its losses in Europe to $1.6 billion but swung to a $34 million loss in South America, where new products helped increase sales but high inflation and weakened currencies cut into profits.

For the fourth quarter, Ford earned $3 billion, or 74 cents a share, helped by one-time gain from deferred tax assets in Europe and the U.S. Excluding the gain, net income was 31 cents a share, topping analyst forecast of 27 cents, according to FactSet.

Fourth-quarter revenue rose 3.5 percent to $37.6 billion, beating analyst expectations.

The company said the outlook it gave in December remains the same, with pretax profits between $7 billion and $8 billion. Ford expects revenue from selling cars to be about the same as 2013, but warned that its operating margin and cash flow will be lower than 2013.

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