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CEO Lewis Booth says the automaker is moving toward paying a dividend.

Previously, Ford had said it would like to get to investment grade before it paid a dividend.

However, the step may not be necessary, given Ford's improving results. Booth said on the company's earnings conference call Wednesday. Investment grade "is not something we have to get to before we start paying a dividend," he said.

"We may decide to pay before we get to investment grade," he said.

Booth would not be pinned down as to exactly when a dividend payout might begin. "We're not going to give out precise hard metrics," he said. "We just want to see a little bit of continued improvement in our business. We've made it pretty clear we'd like to see it sooner rather than later."

As to the amount of the dividend, Booth said, "You can expect us, when we do start, to start cautiously, we don't want to start and then be in a position we can't sustain the level we start at. The key is (to) maintain a sustainable level of dividend (so) we may be a little bit cautious when we start."

CEO Alan Mulally added that a dividend "has been a very high priority for us to have that be part of the plan, so clearly that's what's guiding us."

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


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