Ford

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swung to a fourth-quarter profit thanks to strength in its lending unit, but its automotive operations continued to bleed red ink.

The No. 2 automaker earned $104 million, or 6 cents a share, in the quarter, compared with a loss of $793 million, or 43 cents a share, last year. Excluding voluminous special items in both periods, earnings from continuing operations fell 6.5% from a year ago to $555 million, or 28 cents a share, beating Wall Street estimates by a penny.

Revenue was $44.7 billion in the latest quarter, compared with $45.9 billion a year ago.

Like rival GM, Ford earns nearly all its money from financial services, including car and mortgage lending. The division produced pretax operating earnings of $1 billion in the most recent quarter, up $144 million from a year ago, thanks to better results at Ford Motor Credit and Hertz Corp.

Ford's worldwide automotive operations lost a pretax $470 million in the fourth quarter, compared with a year-ago profit of $13 million. The company cited unfavorable volume, mix and currency exchange, which was offset partially by interest. Worldwide auto revenue was $38.9 billion in the fourth quarter of 2004, compared with $39.8 billion a year ago.

Ford sold 1.75 million vehicles in the fourth quarter, 133,000 fewer than in the year-ago quarter.

"Despite the increasingly tough conditions in the global auto market, we continued to make progress in building on the basics," Ford said in a release. "We are pleased with the growing acceptance of our new products, as well as with the record earnings of our Financial Services sector."