Ford (F) has been having quite the eventful quarter! When looking over the company's recent history, I can't help but be reminded of my favorite local team, the New York Jets. If you follow NFL football, bells and whistles should be going off in your head at that comparison, as the Jets are certainly not a team to be proud of right now. They always show so much promise, and then blow it all away with penalties, turnovers and bad mistakes.
I'll admit that the last Jets game I watched this season was October 21st, against the New England Patriots. While the Jets started strong, I quickly stopped watching as I couldn't deal with the stress of the costly mistakes early on (and yes, I caught highlights of Sanchez running into his own linebacker and fumbling for a return touchdown on the following Patriots game). I haven't yet sold my Ford shares and I don't plan on it anytime soon, but like the Jets, I'm finding it difficult to watch this company which I feel has so much potential, wasting it on embarrassing recalls (in an unrelated coincidence, the Jets are owned by Robert Wood Johnson of Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), to whom you could easily apply the same analogy).
The biggest issue I'm having with Ford right now is the constant recalls. The Escape has had four already because the engine has a tendency to light on fire. The 2013 Fusion, which I'm a big fan of, shared the most recent engine recall with the Escape and just recently a new recall was issued to fix a defect in the headlights. When I first started investing in Ford, back in 2008, I was reading great things about the quality. This was a very important factor to me because I had grown up associating the company with the acronyms Fix Or Repair Daily and Found On Road Dead, and I figured that overcoming these titles would be key to surpassing the Japanese rivals. If something doesn't change soon, someone with a better command of the English language will come up with a Ford acronym that incorporates "recalled" into the name.
Despite these recalls, I'm pleasantly surprised to find strong sales growth, especially in China, but I'm fearing that Ford is wasting a precious opportunity. Due to a perfect storm of unfortunate events for the Japanese automakers, Toyota (TM) and Honda (HMC) have been suffering and Ford has been there to pick up the slack. Once these new Ford owners have to bring their cars in for several recalls in the first year though, they'll be reminiscing back to the carefree days of driving Corollas and Accords for 200,000 miles without any problems.
This issue goes past the recalls. Like Hyundai (GM:HYMLF) and Honda, Ford had a slight overestimation on its mileage. The C-Max and Fusion Hybrid were touted as having 47mpg combined, but it looks like the reality is that the figures are closer to 37 and 39, respectively. Again, a consumer that buys one of these vehicles will likely feel deceived, which could have a negative impact on customer retention. In October, the C-Max actually had higher sales than the Prius V, however this may change as a result of the revised numbers. This is a difficult call to make, however. The Honda Insight has the same mileage as the Prius V, at a lower starting price, and where are those? Not on the road, apparently, if my daily commute tells me anything about what people are driving.
Moving away from this negativity, Ford is starting a big advertising push with its Lincoln brand. Wait, this is horrible. Before I even get to checking out the supposedly luxurious interiors, I'm stuck with the hideous exteriors. The remodeled 2013 MKZ is passable, but I wouldn't get anywhere near the MKX and MKT SUVs without some serious rework. The sad truth is that most of the Lincoln lineup is ugly, and no amount of advertising will fix this. In fact, the more ads I see for the MKX, the more I'll associate the Lincoln brand with poor styling. The MKZ, the prettiest of the bunch, will have a tough time facing off against the Audi (OTCQX:VLKAY) A4, which has similar pricing, a great interior and exterior, and a strong following. The BMW (OTCPK:BAMXY) 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz (OTCPK:DDAIF) C300 are in a higher price range, but the brand names alone will make it difficult for Lincoln to steal customers.
I own a Ford and I'm happy with it. As for the stock, it's a tricky situation. I believe in the company but there's a lot to overcome. The best I can do is to recommend a hold, which is what I'm doing. Before I begin picking up more shares, I'm going to wait for several months to pass without any recalls. As a long-term investor, high sales figures mean nothing to me if those are the last Fords that those people purchase. As for the whole mileage issue, I'll admit that I have no idea what will happen there, but it won't have too much affect on my outlook. Finally, I'll be watching for the redesigned Lincolns after sales of the current lineup fall flat. Ford is making some decent money, and strong results from Lincoln will be key to pushing the company over the edge.
Now, to the bigger issue; if the Jets would just get rid of Mark Sanchez...
Thanks for reading my article! If you like the lines on the Lincoln MKX, I'd like to hear it, since I'm not aware of anyone who does. Did I draw some incorrect conclusions or put in erroneous facts? Tell me below. Come up with that new Ford acronym? Keep it to yourself. It might hurt the stock if it catches on. Much appreciated!