A row of Ford Focus are seen at Koons Ford in Silver Spring, Maryland April 3, 2012. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

A row of Ford Focus are seen at Koons Ford in Silver Spring, Maryland April 3, 2012. REUTERS/Gary Cameron (Reuters)

Overseas Red Ink Weigh on Ford's 1Q; EPS Tops Views

By Features FOXBusiness

Ford (F) posted a steep drop-off in first-quarter net income on Friday amid a higher tax bill and losses overseas, but the auto maker’s results still beat the Street amid its highest North American profit in a more than a decade.

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Shares of the iconic U.S. company advanced less than 1% in the wake of the numbers.

Ford said it earned $1.4 billion last quarter, well off from $2.6 billion the year before. On a pre-tax basis, operating profits came in at $2.3 billion, or 39 cents a share. Analysts had called for EPS of 35 cents.

Revenue slipped 2.2% to $32.4 billion, but that topped the Street’s view of $31.27 billion.

“Our team delivered a solid performance during the first quarter, with particularly strong results in North America, despite a challenging global external environment," CEO Alan Mulally said in a statement.

Ford posted total vehicle wholesales of 1.4 million units last quarter, down by 45,000 units year-over-year amid sinking sales in Europe and Asia Pacific and Africa.

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Ford’s results were highlighted by its North American division, which enjoyed a $289 million jump in profits to $2.1 billion -- its highest quarterly profit since at least 2000 when the company began to report it as a separate division.

In South America, pre-tax profits tumbled to $54 million from $210 million due to higher costs and unfavorable exchange rates.

Ford disclosed a pre-tax operating loss of $149 million in Europe, reversing a profit of $293 million the year before, due to lower industry volumes and shrinking demand for parts and accessories.

Meanwhile, Ford said it lost $95 million on a pre-tax operating basis in its Asia Pacific/Africa division, compared with a profit of $33 million the year before.

Ford blamed the higher tax bill on the release of a tax valuation allowance in the fourth quarter of last year.

Looking ahead, Ford projected flat pre-tax operating profits for 2012 and its U.S. market share to slip from 2011’s 16.5%.

The report came just days after Fitch Ratings upgraded Ford’s credit rating to investment grade, marking a dramatic turnaround in the company’s finances over the past six years.

Ford said on Friday it slashed its automotive debt by $2.9 billion year-over-year to $13.7 billion at the end of the first quarter and it ended the period with $32.9 billion in total automotive liquidity.