Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F) shares haven't gotten much love from investors in recent years. Ford's abroad operations have struggled due to a combination of weak market conditions and strategic missteps. Meanwhile, in the U.S., Ford was slow to update and expand its lineup of crossovers, SUVs, and trucks as the market shifted away from passenger cars. Rising raw material costs have also cut into the company's profit recently.
As a result, Ford stock has performed terribly for investors in recent years. Five years ago, Ford shares traded for about $16. Now, they change hands for less than $12. Even with dividends included, Ford stock has declined slightly over the past five years. (For comparison, the S&P 500 has nearly doubled on a total-return basis.)
However, Ford is quickly addressing some of its biggest weaknesses, including a gutsy decision to drop all traditional sedans from its U.S. lineup. Its strong May sales results indicate that it is already getting back on track. With Ford stock trading for less than eight times earnings, this might be a good time to bet on a comeback for this American icon.
Surprisingly strong May sales
Through the first four months of 2018, Ford's U.S. deliveries declined 3.3% year over year. This was driven entirely by a double-digit slump in passenger car deliveries.
However, Ford was able to grind out a 0.7% increase in its U.S. deliveries last month. This May performance was particularly impressive because fleet sales fell 4.6% due to order timing. Sales to retail customers increased 3.5%, more than offsetting the decline on the fleet side.
A second headwind was the supplier fire that forced Ford to halt production of its popular F-150 pickup for several days. Nevertheless, Ford managed to sell 84,639 F-Series trucks last month: up 11.3% year over year. It achieved this strong increase even as it pulled back on incentive spending. On the other hand, it remains to be seen if Ford can maintain this sales momentum in June, given that it ended May with unusually low truck inventory.
Ford's newest products remain red-hot
Another encouraging sign from Ford's May sales report was that its newest products continue to sell very well. First, deliveries of the pricey Lincoln Navigator full-size SUV more than doubled year over year, while average transaction prices (ATPs) surged by more than $25,000, topping $80,000.
Second, deliveries of the Ford Expedition -- the Navigator's slightly less-expensive (but faster-selling) sibling -- declined by 9.3% due to lower fleet sales, but surged 41.8% on a retail basis. ATPs also rose significantly for the Expedition, reaching $61,400: up from less than $50,000 a year earlier.
Third, sales momentum for the Ford EcoSport subcompact SUV continues to grow. In the first three months of 2018 combined, EcoSport deliveries totaled 6,096. However, deliveries rose to 5,277 in April and 5,481 in May. Retail deliveries actually jumped 65% month over month in May (offset by a timing-related decline in fleet sales). This suggests that there's more upside for the EcoSport as production ramps up and retail inventory reaches normal levels.
A good sign for the future
Strong demand for the EcoSport is a great sign for Ford because it validates the company's move away from traditional sedans in the domestic market. The EcoSport -- along with the upcoming crossover-like Focus Active -- will be one of the few entry-level models in Ford's new U.S. vehicle lineup.
Furthermore, consumers' interest in Ford's freshest models hints at the upside to come as Ford redesigns some of its highest-volume models and launches new SUV and truck offerings.
For the past couple of years, the Blue Oval has had to lean heavily on the popular (and lucrative) F-150 to drive sales and earnings in the U.S. With a new product blitz starting this year and accelerating dramatically in 2019, Ford should be able to regain lost market share, particularly in the crossover/SUV piece of the market.
Meanwhile, the company hopes to slash costs by a staggering $25.5 billion by 2022. That could power a huge increase in earnings per share, driving Ford stock higher. As a result, Ford stock is now near the top of my watch list, and I expect to purchase shares within the next week or two.
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