Alan Mulally, Who Fixed Ford in the U.S., Is Worth a Bet in Europe

DETROIT -- ( TheStreet) -- Once again, Ford ( F) CEO Alan Mulally is taking the lead in a massive restructuring effort.

Mulally, who oversaw the historic turnaround of Ford North America, accomplished without a government bailout, is going for it again. He no doubt sees that the turnaround of Ford Europe, which began in earnest last week, could become his final miracle at Ford.

"Ford has essentially written the playbook on automotive restructuring, given the results in North America," wrote Jefferies analyst Peter Nesvold, in a recent report about the automaker's plans in Europe. "We think they're going to pull this off."

That makes now a good time for investors to zero in on the possibilities in Europe, given that the shares barely moved after the automaker outlined its European restructuring plan on Thursday. Ford shares began the week at $10.14 and closed Friday at $10.36, mostly due to a 21-cent gain on Thursday.

"We believe that investors are underappreciating the plan, likely explaining the muted 2% upside to the stock (on Thursday)," UBS analyst Colin Langan wrote Friday. "Investor concerns likely center around the timing and certainty of the cost savings which begin in mid-2013 and the full run-rate not realized until 2014.

"A closer look at the underpinning assumptions suggest that the margin recovery is achievable, perhaps even beatable, should volumes recover faster," Langan wrote. For Ford to achieve a 6% margin by 2015, overall industry Europe sales would need to gain 1 million units over 2012 levels, while Ford would need to regain its decade average market share (by adding 170 basis points) and auto prices would need to recover by 2%.

"If Ford can reach 6% margin by 2015, its European Union profit would be $1.8 billion, improved from a loss of $1.6 billion in 2012," he said.

That would boost earnings per share by 20 cents, said Langan, who has a buy and a $14 price target for Ford.

Ford shares closed Friday down 5% for the year. GM ( GM) shares are up 11%. Ford will report third-quarter earnings on Tuesday while GM will report on Wednesday.

TheStreet, wrote on July 27 that it looked like a good time to bet on Mulally, with Ford shares at $9.

Mulally is 67 years old and is often questioned about when he will retire. A typical non-response: He told TheStreet in April that "the best is ahead of us (and) whenever I leave the Ford team will continue to keep Ford soaring." Ford Chairman Bill Ford has said that Mulally can stay as long as he wants.

Mulally could have left at 65 when he and Ford were on top, but he chose to stay. It does not seem likely that he would choose to walk away with Ford starting out on a winnable battle to turn things around in Europe.

On Sept. 5, 2006, the day Mulally signed on at Ford, the shares closed at $8.39. The Detroit Three, not surprisingly, were viewed as bankruptcy candidates. Ford shares slumped as low as $1.50 in February 2009, then began a recovery. The shares ended 2009 at $10, up 334%. They reached a high of $18.97 in January 2011 before beginning another slide.

Like Langan, Nesvold has a $14 price target and a buy rating. He noted that Ford is ahead of GM in its Europe restructuring, writing: "We estimate that Ford would be accomplishing these capacity reductions a full 1-2 years earlier than similar actions expected out of GM."

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

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