Ford profit tops estimates as cars fuel North America record

Ford Motor Co., the second-largest U.S. automaker, reported first-quarter profit that exceeded estimates as the Fusion sedan bolstered record results for its North American operations.

Ford reported net income of $1.61 billion in a statement distributed at its Dearborn, Michigan, headquarters. Excluding one-time items, the per-share profit was 41 cents, exceeding the 37-cent average estimate of 17 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. The result compared with net income of $1.4 billion, or 35 cents a share, a year earlier.

The new Fusion, which has drawn comparisons to Aston Martin car styling, is part of Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally’s efforts to fill out Ford’s lineup with more competitive cars to complement its pickups and sport-utility vehicles. Ford’s more complete showrooms drove a record $2.4 billion quarterly profit in North America, which countered slumping demand in Europe and losses in South America.

“Ford has the freshest product in the right segments,” Kevin Tynan, an auto analyst for Bloomberg Industries in Skillman, New Jersey, said in a telephone interview. “It’s entry-level, it’s move-up and then its crossovers, with Escape and Explorer.”

Ford introduced the mid-size Fusion late last year, reinforcing a car lineup already led by the Focus compact, the top-selling global nameplate, according to R.L. Polk & Co. First-quarter automotive revenue totaled $33.9 billion, from $30.5 billion a year earlier. Sales exceeded the $33.6 billion average estimate of 11 analysts.

Production Forecast

Ford rose 1.6% to $13.57 at 8:27 a.m. New York time before the start of regular trading. The shares gained 3.2% this year through yesterday compared with an 11% increase for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

The company also forecast it would build 800,000 vehicles in North America and 390,000 in Europe during the current quarter. That’s up 63,000 in North America and 21,000 in Europe from a year earlier. Automakers record revenue when vehicles are assembled and shipped to dealers.

“We expect a mostly neutral reception to 1Q results themselves and a slightly positive reception to the 2Q production guidance,” Ryan Brinkman, an analyst with JPMorgan Chase & Co. said in an e-mail.

Renewed demand for pickups also helped pace the biggest U.S. sales gain among top automakers in the quarter. Ford’s F- Series line has led the segment for 36 consecutive years.

Ford is leading Detroit’s best lineup of American cars in a generation. Ford, General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC are turning sedans and small cars into areas of strength to counter a weakening yen that’s giving Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. an advantage.

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