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Ford sees weaker-than-expected fourth quarter, uncertainty in 2019

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Ford Motor Co gave a fourth-quarter earnings forecast on Wednesday that was below analysts' expectations, and said it faced uncertainty in 2019 due to trade issues and Britain's exit from the European Union, sending its shares down more than 1 per cent in premarket trading.

[DETROIT] Ford Motor Co gave a fourth-quarter earnings forecast on Wednesday that was below analysts' expectations, and said it faced uncertainty in 2019 due to trade issues and Britain's exit from the European Union, sending its shares down more than 1 per cent in premarket trading.

The No 2 US automaker said it could see improvement in 2019 earnings and revenue even as global industry sales remained flat but did not provide any figures, disappointing Wall Street.

Ford's lack of a formal earnings range for 2019 may be interpreted negatively by investors, analysts said.

"Investor patience is likely to be further tested today as Ford has basically once again said 'your guess' to the financial community with respect to specific financial guidance," this time being its 2019 outlook, Evercore ISI analysts said in a research note titled "Depriving details is NOT a strategy."

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Indeed, the absence of details provided on its expected profit range could point to the company having less visibility on the market and the challenges it faces, RBC Capital Markets analyst Joseph Spak said.

"The lack of a formal range is likely to lead to more dispersion of estimates and expectations, making it more challenging to 'hit' investor expectations," he said in a research note. "That could add difficulty to Ford's effort to build market confidence in their turnaround plan."

Shares of Ford were down 1.5 per cent at US$8.69 in premarket trading.

Last week, Ford's larger US rival, General Motors Co said it expected higher profits in 2019, offering an estimated range that was far stronger than Wall Street analysts had forecast.

Ford sees the potential for higher operating earnings, revenue and adjusted operating cash flow this year, Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks said at a Deutsche Bank conference held in conjunction with the 2019 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

However, he said the volatile US trade policy environment and uncertainty around Britain's planned exit from the European Union could impact its performance in 2019. Ford is the top selling automotive brand in Britain.

"Until we see how some of these things begin to play out ... we want to be a little prudent in terms of how specific we are," Mr Shanks said. "But do we think we should improve the business this year? Absolutely."

Among headwinds cited by Ford were tariffs and high commodity costs, both of which also impacted its 2018 earnings.

Helping the company will be new product rollouts, including the Ford Ranger pickup truck and Explorer sport utility vehicle, its restructuring initiatives, a recovery in China, and the redesign of its money-losing European operations.

Ford said it expects 2018 adjusted earnings of US$1.30 a share on revenue of US$160.3 billion. In October, the Detroit area automaker said it expected to earn in the range of US$1.30 to US$1.50 per share while analysts were expecting US$1.33 per share, Refinitiv IBES data showed.

For the fourth quarter, Ford expects adjusted earnings of 30 cents a share, below the 32 cents analysts were expecting.

The automaker maintained its quarterly dividend payout at 15 cents a share. Some analysts had speculated whether Ford, which is controlled by the Ford family, would consider cutting the dividend.

On Tuesday, Ford and Germany's Volkswagen AG said they would join forces on commercial vans and pickups and were exploring joint development of electric and self-driving technology in a bid to save the automakers billions of dollars.

REUTERS