Puzzled by Ford's Debt? Don't Be

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Many investors simply do not understand Ford's (F) debt. 

Unlike most businesses, Ford's balance sheet may not be simple to dissect if you are not familiar with the business. For example, most companies do not finance customer sales of their own products. 

Customers buying groceries from Wal-Mart (WMT) or gas for their car, but they do not lease the groceries or take out a loan to pay for the gas. Most consumer purchases do not require any sort of financing. But a car is a major purchase that often requires a payment plan.

As a result of these consumer loans, it would appear as though Ford is carrying a very, very large load of debt. In its most recent quarter, Ford reported $110.6 billion in debt. To the naked eye that looks like a company leveraged to the hilt, especially since Fort only has a market cap of roughly $61 billion. 

But there is one very important fact that many investors fail to comprehend. That isn't really Ford's debt.

Wait -- what? But the debt is on the balance sheet. The report clearly states it. $110 billion.

It's not that simple. As is not uncommon in investing, prospective shareholders need to dig a little deeper. 

So what is the magnitude and source of the debt?

Let's start with the basics. For all intents and purposes, Ford operates in two different segments: Ford Automotive and Ford Credit. 

Ford Automotive is rather self-explanatory. It makes and sells cars. Ford Credit on the other hand finances the selling of vehicles to consumers via money obtained through other financial institutions.

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