Ford's Lagging Stock Needs Pickup to Catch Automaker's Rebound

DETROIT (TheStreet) -- Ford Motor  (F) may be stable and earning a profit but shareholders in the No. 2 U.S. automaker were decidedly less enthusiastic Ford's shares have performed poorly since the turn of the century.

Bill Ford Jr., executive chairman, reassured attendees at the company's annual meeting in Delaware Thursday that "we're on track to have a very good year in 2015," as quoted by Bloomberg. "If people are paying attention, I believe the stock price will take care of itself."

At around $15.50, shares are down by less than 1% for the year to date and down 1.9% for the past 52 weeks. By comparison the Standard & Poor's 500 is up 2.3% for 2015 and over 13% for the past 52 weeks.

Mark Fields, chief executive officer, presided over the first shareholders gathering since the retirement of Alan Mulally. Mulally was widely credited for steady leadership during and following the global financial crisis, when Ford suspended its dividend, mortgaged most of its assets and sold its Volvo, Land Rover, Jaguar and Aston-Martin luxury car brands.

A shareholder proposal to end the Ford family's control of the automaker by its ownership of a special class of stock with super-voting powers failed, though by a narrower margin than in previous years. Those in favor of canceling the super-voting shares accounted for 36.3% of the votes cast, up from 34.4% last year and 33.4% the year before.

Though members of the Ford family, through a trust, control about 4% of the automaker's equity, their shares account for 40% of the votes. Each share is worth 16 votes compared to regular common shares, which get one vote each.

The overarching financial event for Ford in 2015 is the introduction of its new F Series full-size pickup, the first time an automaker has manufactured such a vehicle mainly from aluminum. Introduction of the truck, which required massive retooling for two Ford factories, has hurt profit in the short term. Longer-term, Ford is betting the change to aluminum will boost its results.

"We're not thrilled that the stock hasn't moved in a year or two, but we think they're doing the right things," said Michael Levine, a fund manager at Oppenheimer Funds in New York. Ford is the fourth-largest holding in the $6.4 billion equity income fund he manages.

"When Fields came in, the Street probably underestimated some of the costs in transitioning from the old F-150 to the new one," Levine added.

Profit for the automaker was down last year by more than half due to costs associated with introduction of the F Series and other new models, along with tumult that negatively affected operations in Russia and South America.

But Fields said pre-tax profit will grow by as much as half this year, once the new truck -- Ford's most profitable model by far--is being built at full speed.

"We expect our results will grow progressively stronger, mainly in the second half, as the new products that we've been launching start to really pay off," Fields said.

Ford is on a push to revive its Lincoln luxury brand, which lags far behind foreign rivals and that of Cadillac, which belongs to crosstown rival General Motors (GM) The campaign is expected to take years, if not decades, and cost billions. But it will bring balance to an automaker so heavily dependent on full-size pickups.

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