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Am I the Only One Floored by Ford?

The business media do investors a disservice when they give an astonishing quarter run-of-the-mill coverage.

Ford's earnings reported yesterday were, in a word, astonishing. But that word was not used too much by a business media that avoids passionate language in favor of numbing quarterly report routine.

The business-media manifest says to report earnings vs. expectations dryly, and publications have done this by rote a billion times. Use the same words, same tone. Plug in a new company, new numbers. It's a financial Mad Lib. But once in a while a report so outpaces expectations that the common language and tone do not suffice.

Which brings us back, with awe, to Ford. Excluding items,

Ford

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(F) - Get Report

, operating in a troubled and competitive industry that includes

General Motors

(GM) - Get Report

,

Toyota

(TM) - Get Report

and

Honda

(HMC) - Get Report

, earned 20 cents for its first quarter when a

loss

of 16 cents was expected.

They Just Don't Get Ford!

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When companies come within a penny or two of expectations, it serves investors just fine for the business media to churn out stories on auto-pilot. But expecting a 16-cent loss and emerging with a 20-cent profit in this economy? That caused weakness in The Business Press Maven's extremities. Yet look at how many news outlets greeted it with a shrug?

Reuters

sleepwalked

through a lead that gave no indication of how hot this report was:

"Ford Motor Co (F.N) posted an unexpected quarterly profit on Thursday, led by strong results in Europe and South America and a narrowing loss in North America, sending its shares up nearly 8 percent. The automaker also cut its second quarter North American production plan and said it would offer more targeted buyouts to union workers at specific plants after getting about 4,200 workers to accept recent offers to leave the company."

To the

Financial Times

, the results were also

merely "unexpected"

:

"Ford Motor (NYSE:F) reported an unexpected improvement in earnings on Thursday and said it still planned to return its core North American carmaking business to profitability next year in spite of the weakening US economy."

And in a typical summary, Ford's report was nothing more remarkable than a "return to profitability" to

The Wall Street Journal

:

"Ford Motor's stock gained 11% at early afternoon, after the auto maker reported a return to profitability for the first quarter."

Then, this morning in an

article

exclusively about Ford, the

Journal

merely mentions in the lead that they "exceeded Wall Street expectations."

Look: Ford is not without concerns going forward. The company spoke with ample caution about the rest of 2008. But this was a big beat by a company that has a recent history of surpassing expectations, even in light of challenges, and showing improvement on a year-over-year basis in a growing string of quarters (six of them). CEO Alan Mulally, who came from Boeing, might just be doing something right here, and if the business media aren't recognizing this in their word choice, they are not properly alerting you, the savvy investor.

In using the adjective "astonishing" right in the lead,

The New York Times

'

story

was a welcome departure from most other coverage:

"The Ford Motor Company said on Thursday that it earned $100 million in the first quarter, a pittance compared with the $15.3 billion it lost in the previous two years but an astonishing improvement given a slump in the United States market that has ravaged sales of its most lucrative vehicles."

That's more like it.

Now I have try to rest, to get the feeling back in my extremities.

At the time of publication, Fuchs had no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this column.

Marek Fuchs was a stockbroker for Shearson Lehman Brothers and a money manager before becoming a journalist who wrote The New York Times' "County Lines" column for six years. He also did back-up beat coverage of The New York Knicks for the paper's Sports section for two seasons and covered other professional and collegiate sports. He has contributed frequently to many of the Times' other sections, including National, Metro, Escapes, Style, Real Estate, Arts & Leisure, Travel, Money & Business, Circuits and the Op-Ed Page. For his "Business Press Maven? column on how business and finance are covered by the media, Fuchs was named best business journalist critic in the nation by the Talking Biz website at The University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Fuchs is a frequent speaker on the business media, in venues ranging from National Public Radio to the annual conference of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. Fuchs appreciates your feedback;

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