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Ford guidance story updated with Friday's closing price.



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stock tumbled Friday on an earnings miss, the automaker's top executives conceded their guidance was inadequate, but insisted the future outlook remains bright.

Ford shares closed down 13.41%, or $2.52, to $16.27 Friday after the company reported

fourth-quarter earnings excluding items of 30 cents. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters had estimated 48 cents. Pre-tax operating profit fell by $322 million.

"We recognize that we missed versus people's expectations, but we also will continue to try to do a better job of making people aware what the outlook is," said CFO Lewis Booth on the company's earnings call.

Key elements in the earnings miss were a failure to make a profit in Europe despite previous assurances that the region would be profitable, and cost increases related largely to higher commodity prices and to increased product development costs.

"We gave pretty clear guidance

that we were going to have some cost increases in the fourth quarter," Booth said. "We're clearly disappointed that we guided that Europe was going to be profitable."

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When an analyst pointed out that it was Ford's first miss versus consensus in two years, Booth responded, "we'll make sure we can explain it to people with more clarity."

Later, CEO Alan Mulally made the case that although Ford missed estimates, the decisions that led to a profit reduction will have longer-term benefits.

In Europe, Mulally said, "we did give guidance that we believe we would be profitable in the fourth quarter," but overcapacity in Europe led some manufacturers to sharply reduce pricing. "We chose to act on that decisively and not to discount our product.

Additionally, he said, "we chose to invest even more in product launches, engineering and marketing. We saw a real opportunity to get these

new products off to a great start."

Although they did not offer any specific guidance for 2011, Booth and Mulally stressed that Ford will produce improved profits and pre-cash flow in the current year. "We're going to work even

harder to make sure everybody understands where we are and where we're going," Mulally said. "It's a great story and we're going to tell it a little bit better."

Every automotive division in every region of the world will be profitable this year, they said.

While many analysts have been issuing buy recommendations in recent months,

one who has not issued a supportive note following the earnings release, as he maintained a hold rating.

"While the profit line was a disappointment, we note the company was able to move its automotive segment into a net cash position on the balance sheet," wrote Standard & Poor's analyst Efraim Levy. "While market share gains will be harder to achieve in 2011, we see Ford benefitting from higher industry volume in the U.S. and globally, partly offset by weaker financial services contributions."

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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Ted Reed