They’re Making Money Where?

Ford Motor Company recently came out with its quarterly earnings. And impressive they were: The company reported a profit of $1.2 billion, or $00.57 a share, which was 14% higher than analyst had been expecting.

But on the news, Ford stock tanked. Why? Because almost all of Ford’s profit came from its financing arm, Ford Credit, and not from its car business. In fact, if we look closer at the numbers, we see the car business actually had a loss of $57 million in the quarter.

Ford’s stock is declining because the market doesn’t like the fact that Ford cannot make money at the core business it’s been in for the past 100 years.

To sell cars, and compete against GM and DaimlerChrysler, Ford has been dishing out major incentives. In its last quarter, Ford provided discounts and rebates of more than $3,500 for each auto it sold… and it sold 1.75 million units in the quarter. Do the math and you’ll discover Ford is issuing billions of dollars in discounts and rebates to consumers. Is it any wonder they cannot make money selling cars?

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Okay, cash is cash. So does it really matter where a company makes its money so long as it makes money? The answer to this question, and in specific to Ford’s situation, is yes, it does matter where the money is made.

Ford is using a low-interest rate environment to deliver its earnings. What happens when interest rates start to rise? I’ll tell you what will happen… Ford’s balance sheet will start not looking so pretty.

Really, it’s a double whammy. If rates rise, Ford will make less money at Ford Credit. Higher rates will also cause consumers to sit-back on major purchases like cars, and Ford is already having a problem selling cars profitably.

As I mentioned many times before-the stock market is the greatest indicator of things to come. By pricing Ford’s stock so low, the market could be telling us it doesn’t like the company making money in the finance business and that a company should make money on its core product. But maybe there’s more there.

Could the market really be telling us that Ford might have a hard time in the future making money in its financing business, if interest rates go up, and making money selling cars if demand falls? In the latter case, the implications would be negative for many consumer stocks aside from Ford. And if we look at the price charts of all the other major consumer stocks, we can easily see deterioration in their prices. Not a good thing.

Ford Credit