Ford Brakes on Earnings Guidance

The automaker joins rival General Motors in forecasting lower EPS for 2005.
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Ford

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followed

General Motors'

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lead Tuesday, predicting a decline in earnings for 2005 that will likely reflect a slowdown in its financial services arm, a main driver of profits in 2004.

The automaker guided for full-year 2005 earnings of $1.75 to $1.95 a share, excluding special items, down from $2.11 a share in 2004. Wall Street is expecting earnings of $1.84 a share, according to consensus estimates reported by Thomson First Call.

For the first quarter of 2005, Ford expects earnings of 25 cents to 35 cents a share, well below Wall Street's consensus estimate of 60 cents a share.

The decline reflects the confluence of difficulties facing Detroit's so-called Big Three automakers, from massive pension and health care obligations and rising commodity costs to litigation expenses and intense competitive pressure from foreign manufacturers.

GM said earlier this month that it too expected declining profits this year, and the company signaled that it was taking steps to prepare for the possibility of a credit rating downgrade, an event that would only exacerbate the problems in its cost structure.

The potential for rising interest rates in 2005 poses a problem for both companies, who have long been deriving the lion's share of their earnings from financing operations. Higher rates will lower the consumer's willingness to spend on credit.

Ford chairman and chief executive Bill Ford commented on the company's prospects for the new year at a presentation with analysts in New York.

"Last year our reinvigorated cycle plan kicked in, and we introduced more new vehicles around the world than at any other time in our 100-plus years," Bill Ford said. "Looking ahead, just stabilizing our business isn't enough. Our objective is to win. For 2005 and beyond, we're going to build great products, a strong business and a better world."

Shares of Ford were recently up 33 cents, or 2.5%, to $13.40.