Ford Motor Co. could post the worst annual loss in its storied 103-year history when the automaker releases its 2006 earnings on Thursday.
The old record net loss was $7.39 billion (euro5.68 billion) in 1992, but through three quarters of this year, Ford already had lost $7 billion (euro5.38 billion).
Fourteen analysts polled by Thomson Financial expect more red ink in the fourth quarter, predicting an average quarterly loss of $1.01 (euro.78) per share and $1.35 (euro1.04) per share for the year, excluding special items.
"The fourth quarter's going to look real ugly," said Erich Merkle, director of forecasting for the auto consulting company IRN Inc. in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He predicted Ford would get as much bad news out of the way as it can for the end of 2006, beating the 1992 record.
"Let's just air all our dirty laundry all at once. Take the medicine and then we can move on. I definitely think that's their philosophy, knowing it's going to be real poor," Merkle said.
Burnham Securities analyst David Healy said in a note to investors that Ford has yet to recover from its finances being wrecked by collapsing sales of its F-series pickup trucks and truck-based sport utility vehicles.
The company made a profit of $1.44 billion (euro1.11 billion) in 2005, and in the fourth quarter of that year, it produced and shipped 355,000 of the high-profit large and mid-sized truck models, Healy said. That dropped by 40 percent to 213,000 in the final quarter of last year, he said.
"In our view, most of the year-to-year increase in losses lies in the 142,000 year-to-year decline in these high-profit models," Healy said.
Production of other Ford models dropped by 53,000 in the fourth quarter of last year compared to the last quarter of 2005, driven by dealer stock reductions and the company's strategy to reduce traditional low-profit sales to rental car companies, Healy said.
Efraim Levy, senior industry analyst for Standard & Poor's, predicted Ford would post a $2 billion (euro1.54 billion) net loss for the last quarter of 2006.
Like other analysts, he sees bottom-line improvement in 2007 even though he predicts revenues will drop by 7 percent compared to 2006. He still sees a loss for this year, but said the improvement will come as Ford becomes more efficient and cuts costs by slicing its blue- and white-collar work forces.
About 38,000 hourly workers have signed up for buyout or early retirement offers from the company, and Ford plans to cut its white-collar work force by 14,000 with buyouts and early retirements.
The company has mortgaged its assets to borrow up to $23.4 billion (euro17.99 billion) to fund a massive restructuring plan and cover billions in losses expected until 2009. It expects to burn up $17 billion (euro13.07 billion) in cash during the next two years before returning to profitability.
Ford's revenue will continue to suffer in 2007 from intense competition, an expected lower overall auto market and weakness in Ford's financial services business, Levy said.
Ford has rolled out or will introduce several new or updated products during 2007, including the Edge crossover, new F-series Super Duty pickups, a redesigned Focus small car and an updated Five Hundred larger sedan.
But Levy said the company's new vehicles won't be strong enough for it to recover much this year.
"The new products aren't that exciting overall," he said.
Ford's sales last year were 8 percent below 2005 figures at about 2.9 million vehicles. Ford attributed the decline to a drop in truck and sport utility vehicle sales and the end of production for the Taurus sedan, which largely was sold to fleet buyers last year.
Ford is the first of the Detroit-area automakers to release its earnings for the year. General Motors Corp., which lost more than $3 billion (euro2.31 billion) in the first nine months of last year, will release its fourth-quarter and annual earnings on Tuesday.
DaimlerChrysler AG, which lost $1.5 billion (euro1.15 billion) in the third quarter, is to release its earnings on Feb. 14.
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