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Ford earnings soar on US auto boom, stronger Europe

[NEW YORK] Ford reported on Thursday a jump in annual profits as it benefited from the US auto boom, a return to profitability in Europe and an accounting change in pension expenses.

Annual profits were US$7.4 billion, up from US$1.8 billion in 2014 as revenues rose 3.8 per cent to US$149.6 billion.

Results reflected the automaker's highest US sales in nine years following the launch of an aluminum-bodied F-150 version of its best-selling F-Series pickup trucks and other revamps.

Ford reported 2015 US auto sales of 2.5 million vehicles, up five per cent from 2014.

North America remained the core of the second-largest US automaker's business, with operating profits rising 25.6 per cent to US$9.3 billion.

In Europe, Ford scored an operating profit of US$259 million, compared with a loss of US$598 million in 2014.

The profit, Ford's first in Europe since 2011, follows significant moves to restructure its European operations over the last couple of years, including plant closures and job cuts.

The gain in Europe helped to offset an annual loss of US$832 million in South America.

Results were boosted by a shift in the accounting of pension plans. When Ford announced the change on January 7, it said it would boost 2015 pre-tax profit by US$1.5 billion.

Earnings for the fourth quarter were US$1.9 billion, up US$4.4 billion from the year-ago period. Quarterly profits were 58 cents per share, seven cents above analyst expectations.

Ford confirmed its 2016 forecast for revenue and earnings per share equal or higher to that in 2015.

"In 2016, we will continue to build on our strengths and accelerate our pace of progress even further, while transforming Ford into both an auto and a mobility company and creating value for all of our stakeholders," said Ford president and chief executive Mark Fields in a statement.

Ford shares fell 3.0 per cent to $11.48 in early trade.