Wall Street Concerned Over Ford CEO's Cautious Strategy

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
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wall street concerned over ford ceo s cautious strategy

Remember Mark Fields, the former Ford CEO who was forced to retire due to an inability to manifest his vision of the company’s future in a timely manner? Well, it’s starting to look like Wall Street needs another sacrificial lamb. Ford’s current chief executive, Jim Hackett, appears rather appetizing.

Despite promises from company chairman Bill Ford that the automaker would see swifter decision making under Hackett, it hasn’t felt all that differing from the company’s Fieldsian days. There’s still a strong emphasis placed on transforming Ford into a mobility company with no obvious path on how to get there. While it might be a little unfair of us to slam Fields or Hackett for their inability to accurately map out the future like some mythical sage, investors expect exactly that. As a result, Ford’s stock price has continued to tumble.

For what it’s worth, Hackett has proven slightly more daring. Under his leadership, Ford has vowed to rejigger itself into a truck and SUV provider while continuing work on its identity as a mobility firm. It also pared down some of its profit-losing projects, including one Hackett helped develop, and unveiled a restructuring plan for Europe.

It even announced a new corporate alliance with Volkswagen. But none of it has been enough to help the company’s paltry share price rebound. As things stand, Ford’s stock valuation is down 22 percent through Hackett’s term — which isn’t all that different from what happened during Fields’ tenure.

On Wednesday, Hackett asked investors to have patience and belief in his approach in tackling the company’s $11 billion restructuring. Unfortunately, Wall Street doesn’t care about being patient, unless you can prove that it comes with a financial reward. Ultimately, investors sent Ford’s share price down by another 6 percent after a meager boost just a few days earlier.

“Wall Street is just frustrated and tired of waiting,” David Whiston, an analyst with Morningstar Inc., told Bloomberg as part of its financial assessment of Ford. “It doesn’t look like they’re moving quickly.”

A lot of this has to do with Ford’s inability to get specific. General Motors has outlined most of its long-term plans, even the more diabolical ones, in great detail. While recent revelations have shown that its mobility program might not be on the bleeding edge as previously believed, and widespread layoffs have garnered unfavorable press, it’s stock is still hovering around $38 per share while Ford’s is resting below $9.

“It feels like they still don’t have a lot of details about their restructuring,” said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for researcher LMC Automotive. “Wall Street doesn’t take to that very well. They want to be convinced that things are going to turn around, and the company is on the right path. Ford hasn’t demonstrated that.”

We would argue that General Motors hasn’t done anything demonstrably different, save for being more upfront about what it’s doing. Both companies have have trouble with their new businesses and are in the midst of restructuring. While GM has taken the lead on in-car marketing and connectivity, Ford doesn’t appear to be terribly far behind, with a similar model in the works. In fact, the biggest difference between the pair is that Ford isn’t doing nearly as well in China — something that seems to count for a lot on Wall Street these days.

Meanwhile, Fiat Chrysler is only tangentially involved with autonomous driving through its partnership with Waymo, and managed to see major improvements in its share price after 2017. It’s currently trading quite a bit higher than Ford, at around $16 per share. What’s different is that FCA doesn’t have major aspirations in terms of vehicle autonomy or electrification. However, it does have a reasonably clear pathway to the future, as well as more Asian involvement than Ford.

Most assumed Ford’s VW announcement would impress investors. But its stock tells the story; no one was biting last week. Some argue the deal is better for VW, at least until its battery tech starts showing up in Ford products.

From Bloomberg:

By week’s end, Hackett’s boss, Executive Chairman Bill Ford, was defending his CEO’s strategy and appealing for patience from Wall Street analysts frustrated that the company won’t provide hard numbers on job cuts and financial targets.

“We can’t really tip our hand beforehand on a lot of the things that we’re doing,” Ford said in an on-stage chat during the auto show with Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes. “So, we’re having to sort of say to people, well, take our word for it. Well, analysts have models they have to create and taking your word for it doesn’t fill out a model.”

Morningstar’s Whiston said of Ford: “They’ve been saying ‘take our word for it’ for a long time.”

The big issue seems to be Ford’s inability to formulate and share plans with investors. GM has probably been overly ambitious with its own planning, while FCA has been more cautious; still, both told the public “here’s where we are now and this is what we’re doing.” Ford hasn’t, at least not to the same degree, and that has proven a sticking point for many.

Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas issued a note last week praising GM CEO Mary Barra while claiming Ford “has a significant gap to GM in terms of repositioning the business for long-term sustainability.” Jonas rates GM the equivalent of a buy and cut Ford to a hold in October. That’s been typical over the last year. The Motley Fool’s Dan Caplinger recommended FCA over Ford as the “better buy” last August.

“We see a path to improvement for Ford but believe the situation may need to get worse before it gets better,” Jonas wrote in his assessment. “Ford has been here before, and we believe has every opportunity to improve its fortunes under the right combination of leadership and strategy.”

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

Consumer advocate tracking industry trends, regulation, and the bitter-sweet nature of modern automotive tech. Research focused and gut driven.

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  • Eric the Red Eric the Red on Jan 24, 2019

    I have a dog in the fight. Have owned Ford Stock for 30 years and for most of the time have been disappointed in its performance. At this point I feel it can only go up but have felt that way many times before. I have had financial advisors tell me to dump it but I keep on hanging in there. Recent Mistakes made: discontinuing the Ranger in 2012. Ford is big in trucks and this was STUPID. They had the biggest share of small trucks at the time and they threw it away! At least they have realized their mistake but will take years to rebuild the smaller truck market share. Allowing their cars to get to the point it was easier to discontinue than to make them top of the line. Okay, cancel the Taurus and Fiesta but damn, you should keep the Focus and Fusion. They are good cars and keep making them better. Everything is getting too expensive! When the economy declines the average transaction price that the F150 brags about will become a liability. Okay to have some expensive trims levels but need to keep vehicles affordable. Quality is Job One isn't being lived up to. They are good vehicles but not great. Make them bullet proof and you can get the premium that all auto companies are after. Never forget that Ford is ran by the Ford family (control 40% of all voting rights and with that amount they DO control the entire company). While they do want to make money, they often times aren't as concerned with share price. They want the dividend!

  • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Jan 26, 2019

    Isn't he cute? Friendly and forgiving smile.

  • Tassos Unlike Tim, I don't use this space as a wastebasket for ANYTHING BUT a proper used car.If you seriously need a car AND you are as destitute as Tim's finds imply, HERE IS A PROPER ONE FOR YOUR NEEDS:You can probably get it for only $4k, WITH Leather, Factory Navigation, plenty of room and a V6.https://www.cars.com/research/toyota-camry-2005/I even considered getting it myself as an extra reliable car.
  • Jeff Of all the EV trucks I like the Rivian the best but I am still years away if ever from buying an EV.
  • Kwik_Shift I definitely like the looks of the newest 300s over the Chargers.
  • SCE to AUX "Should car companies shack up with tech giants in order to produce legible infotainment systems and the like? Or should they go it alone?"Great question(s).The River Rouge days are gone, where Ford produced whole cars out of raw materials entering the plant at the other end. Nearly everything is outsourced these days - sometimes well, sometimes disastrously.But the problem with infotainment systems is that they are integrated with the car's operation. VW has delayed entire products for issues with infotainment.For me, the question boils down to a contractual arrangement - who owns and maintains the code forever? Since more and more of the car's function is tied to the infotainment system, I'd argue that the car mfr needs to own it - especially the larger ones.Do mfrs really want to share intellectual property with Huawei just to fast-track some code they've managed themselves in the past?
  • Kwi65728132 I always did like the styling of the 300C and it was on my short list for a new (to me) rear wheel drive, naturally aspirated V8 luxury sedan but I found a Hyundai Equus that was better optioned than any 300C I could find and for several grand less.