Ford said Wednesday that pretax profit for this year should total about $8.5 billion, which could be the best in a decade and among the strongest in company history. But the company warned profits could fall by as much as $1.5 billion next year, in a range of $7 billion to $8 billion, as price increases slow in North America and global costs rise, in part because of an ambitious launch of almost two dozen vehicles.
At a conference with analysts, Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks touted this year's strong global growth and big gains in North America, but the company's outlook overshadowed the 2013 numbers and pulled down the share price.
Shares of Ford fell 7.3 percent, or $1.21, to $15.49 in late-morning trading.
Shanks told analysts that Ford could fall short of earlier guidance of 10 percent operating margin in North America this year because of a large recall of Ford Escape small SUVs with 1.6-liter engines. It now expects the margin, the percentage of revenue it gets to keep, to be 9.5 to 10 percent. Warranty costs from the recall will be $250 million to $300 million.
Before the recession, competitors typically would get far higher prices for their cars than Ford, but Ford has eliminated that gap now. That means any future growth in Ford's prices will have to come from introducing new models or getting people to add options, he said.
"Now it's more related to the equipment that we get or the newness of the product, or perhaps a weakness or the strengths of a competitor that's going to really give us the ability to price up to an extent that we can, or perhaps in some cases not price strong as we might have wanted to," Shanks told the analysts.
Prior to Wednesday, Ford shares had risen almost 30 percent this year, thanks to a strong financial performance. Shanks said Ford expects 10 percent revenue growth this year, improved market share in all regions except Europe and stronger cash flow than a year ago. In North America, where the company makes most of its money, the pretax profit is expected to be the highest in more than a decade.
Ford also said it nearly cut in half the underfunded balance of its global pension plans, compared with the end of 2012.
Ford plans to launch 23 global vehicles next year, including 16 in North America. It's the biggest single-year number in more than a century.
But Buckingham Research analyst Joseph Amaturo, in a note to investors after the analyst conference, said the 2014 guidance highlights his concerns about limited earnings leverage for Ford in the future. "We believe Ford's 2014 guidance fell short of consensus 2014 expectations due to deterioration in North American pricing and lower F-Series production," he said in the note.
Amaturo gives Ford an "Underperform" rating and has a one-year price target for the stock of $12.