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Ford Posts Big Profits

Ford reported late last week that its North American operating profit rose 33 percent to $889 million.

DEARBORN, Michigan (AP) β€” Ford's stock price fell after weak sales in Europe and production losses in Asia hurt fourth-quarter earnings.

Ford Motor Co. reported $13.62 billion in net income, but investors brushed off the result because most of that came from an accounting change. Excluding that change, earnings totaled $1.1 billion, or 20 cents a share, missing Wall Street expectations by 5 cents.

Ford shares were down as much as 6 percent in premarket trading. They were down 3 percent to $12.41 in mid-morning trading.

The company lost money in Europe and Asia in the fourth quarter, and profits fell in South America. But its North American operating profit rose 33 percent to $889 million.

"The quarter was really driven by North America," Chief Financial Officer Lewis Booth said.

Booth said November flooding in Thailand, which affected its parts suppliers, had a greater impact than the company expected. Ford lost 34,000 units of production in Thailand and in South Africa, which relies on Thai-made parts. He said the company also saw higher costs for steel and other commodities. Ford spent $2.3 billion more on commodities in 2011 than the prior year, or $100 million more than it had forecast.

Europe's debt crisis weighed on car sales in that region. Ford's European sales were down 1 percent for the quarter.

For the full year, the Dearborn-based company made $20.2 billion, or $4.94 per share. Without the accounting gain, it earned $8.76 billion, or $1.51 per share, its highest operating profit since 1999. Full year revenue rose 13 percent to $136.3 billion.

Analysts had forecast full-year earnings of $1.86 per share on revenue of $127.31 billion.

Based on its full-year North American results, Ford said it will make profit-sharing payments of around $6,200 each to its 41,600 U.S. hourly employees. Employees will get their checks in March.

Ford moved $15.7 billion worth of tax credits and other assets off its books starting in 2006 because it wasn't making money so it couldn't take advantage of them. The company moved most of them back onto its books in the fourth quarter because it anticipates using them now that it's profitable.

The change will affect Ford's tax rates going forward. Ford's tax rate was 9 percent in 2010 because of the assets that were being held in the valuation allowance account. Ford's new rate will be closer to 30 percent.

Booth called the change a "significant milestone" and said it's a strong indication that the company expects to remain profitable. Another is Ford's decision last month to reinstate a 5-cent quarterly dividend starting in March.

But Booth said the international climate remains turbulent. Ford is trying to hold the line on incentive spending in Europe, but that could cost some sales. He doesn't expect Asia to be a solid contributor to profits for several more years, as the company tries to expand there. Ford currently is building seven plants in Asia. The South American market is also getting more competitive, he said, and Ford's products there are older than some other brands.

Ford is cutting European production in the first quarter by 36,000 vehicles because of weak sales. It's also making smaller production cuts in Asia and South America, but is increasing production in North America by 18,000 vehicles.

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