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Auto Analyst: Ford's Finances Precarious

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Auto Analyst: Ford's Finances Precarious


Auto Analyst: Ford's Finances Precarious

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Today, both GM and Ford announced incentives for car buyers. If customers lose their jobs, both automakers have said they will cover payments for a period of time. It's one attempt to lure buyers back as car sales plummet. With both GM and Chrysler on a short government leash to restructure, Ford has been out of the headlines lately. Ford's executives say that company is in a different place from the other two of the Big Three. To talk about Ford's position of relative strength, we're joined by independent auto analyst Maryann Keller.

And when we talk about relative strength, we should say it is relative. This is a company that lost, what, about $15 billion in 2008.

Ms. MARYANN KELLER (Independent Auto Analyst): That's right. Make no mistake about it. Ford may not be asking the government for bailout funds right now, but Ford is in a - still in a precarious financial position.

BLOCK: And Ford did ask the government for a credit line, but so far hasn't had to use it, right?

Ms. KELLER: That's right. They have asked for a credit line, but so far have avoided using it. That's not to say that they won't need it sometime later this year if there's no improvement in vehicle demand.

BLOCK: What do you think - when you look at the status and where these three car companies are positioning themselves, what has Ford been able to do that GM and Chrysler haven't?

Ms. KELLER: You have to go back a couple of years to understand why Ford is in a somewhat better position. I think starting in 2006, when Alan Mulally became the CEO of Ford, he undertook a few steps that I think have proven to be prescient. Number one: He decided that he was going to monetize his many assets, especially the non-core brands of Ford, as quickly as possible. And so he sold a large portion of his stake in Mazda and raised cash that way. He also was able to, last year, successfully offload Jaguar and Land Rover. Both were money-losing businesses that Ford had owned for some time.

They do have Volvo for sale, and apparently there is some interest in Volvo, which, if successful, might generate for Ford another billion to $2 billion. That's significantly less than Ford paid for it, but the process gets rid of ongoing losses and does put a little bit more money into the Treasury.

On the capital-raising side, when - everyone remembers when money was plentiful and seemingly available at interest rates that would be unknown or unheard of today.

BLOCK: Yeah. Those were the days, right?

Ms. KELLER: Yeah. Those were the good old days. And Ford took advantage of those times and borrowed more than $20 billion, put up the whole company as collateral against those loans. But it certainly provided Ford with a huge financial cushion.

BLOCK: I've seen that described as Ford having mortgaged everything, including the logo.

Ms. KELLER: They did. They mortgaged the blue oval. But you know what? That was a smart thing to do. Operationally, I think Ford has also done a few things. One of the most important is to avoid having to separate the car company from the captive finance company. There is a family relationship between the two that enables both of them to coordinate their resources to help sell cars to fund floor-planning lines for car dealers. So here again is a bit of evidence suggesting that Ford is in better shape than its domestic peers.

BLOCK: How much of this has to do simply with car quality? I mean, can you make a case that Ford is in better shape maybe because it just makes better cars?

Ms. KELLER: No. I don't think that - this is green eye-shade stuff. This is not - the car quality is what happens in the show room. This is really all about actions taken by executives to put the company on a better financial footing a few years ago.

BLOCK: We've been talking with independent auto analyst Maryann Keller. Thanks so much.

Ms. KELLER: Thank you.

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