By DEE-ANN DURBIN
DETROIT (AP) â¿¿ Ford is finally getting some respect from investors. But will it last?
After falling as low as $8.92 last summer when investors were spooked by huge losses in Europe, the No. 2 U.S. automaker's shares are now hovering at an 18-month high of $14. The company recently doubled its annual dividend to 40 cents. It calmed investors by announcing a restructuring in Europe. And it has settled concerns about succession for now: Respected CEO Alan Mulally will stay through at least 2014.
But Wall Street still has reasons to be wary. Ford's net income has fallen in five of the last six quarters. Analysts expect 2012 sales and profit to be below 2011 because of sinking sales in Europe and South America. The Dearborn, Mich.-based company has warned it will lose $1.5 billion in Europe in 2012 and at least as much this year in that troubled region.Ford's car quality has also been dinged. Launches of the new Escape SUV and Fusion sedan â¿¿ two of its most important vehicles â¿¿ were marred by an embarrassing string of safety recalls last fall. And problems with electronics and bumpy transmissions pushed the Ford and Lincoln brands to the bottom of Consumer Reports' reliability rankings. Here's what investors will be asking when Ford reports its fourth-quarter and full-year earnings Tuesday: WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Ford lost U.S. market share in 2012 for several reasons. Its Japanese rivals returned to full strength after the 2011 earthquake in Japan, and it discontinued high-volume products like the Lincoln Town Car and Ranger pickup. Investors want to know if Ford can stop the slide. One risk: Sales could slow for the F-Series pickup, the nation's best-selling vehicle, because the company jumped the gun and revealed a possible future version at this month's Detroit auto show, says J.P. Morgan analyst Ryan Brinkman. Truck buyers may want to sit back and wait for the new one instead of buying now.