Video: Ford’s road ahead

updated 4/24/2008 12:37:31 PM ET 2008-04-24T16:37:31

Ford Motor Co. surprised Wall Street on Thursday with a $100 million profit in the first quarter as strong results from Europe and South America helped offset the impact of a slumping U.S. economy that cut car and truck sales in its main market.

The No. 2 U.S.-based automaker also said its latest round of early retirement and buyout offers netted 4,200 hourly workers, fewer than Ford had targeted.

It was Ford’s first profitable quarter since the second quarter of 2007 when it made $750 million. Ford reported a full-year loss of $2.7 billion last year, and it cautioned that the rest of this year will be tough.

“The remainder of 2008 will be a challenge but we are cautiously optimistic despite the external challenges,” CEO Alan Mulally said in a statement. “Our plan is working.”

Ford also lowered its industrywide U.S. vehicle sales forecast for the full year to a range of 15.3 million to 15.6 million. In January it had expected full-year sales of 16 million.

Ford says it earned 5 cents per share in the January-March period. Dearborn-based Ford lost $282 million, or 15 cents a share, in the same period last year.

Excluding special items, the company said it earned $525 million after taxes, or 20 cents per share. That beat Wall Street’s expectations. Thirteen analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial had predicted a loss of 16 cents per share.

The profit came despite a $45 million pretax loss in Ford’s core North American automotive market. That was an improvement over a $613 million loss in the year-ago quarter, driven by $1.2 billion in cost reductions that helped buffer a U.S. sales decline.

Company spokesman Mark Truby said Ford may offer additional buyout and early retirement packages on a plant-by-plant basis to further reduce its blue-collar work force.

Ford reported first quarter revenue of $39.4 billion, down from $43 billion a year ago due to the sale of its Jaguar-Land Rover and Aston Martin units. Excluding the sale, revenue would have been up slightly, the company said.

Special items for the quarter totaled $416 million, including worker buyout and early retirement costs and the cost of reducing its dealer ranks.

Ford said it made $257 million pretax in South America, up from $113 million a year ago. In Europe, it made $739 million, compared with $219 million in the first quarter of last year.

Volvo had a pretax loss of $151 million, compared with a profit of $94 million a year ago. It was the first quarter the company broke out earnings for the Volvo unit.

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