By David Berman
After steering around bailouts, bankruptcies and sticky accelerators – issues that have affected its rivals – Ford Motor Co. (F) shares moved higher yet again on Wednesday, confounding those observers who once lumped the company with its failed North American peers.
This time, the stock appears to be moving over a credit rating upgrade from Moody’s Investors Services. Moody’s raised its rating on Ford to B2 from B3, a move that affects $65 billion (U.S.) of debt. Although the upgrade still leaves Ford’s credit rating five levels below investment grade, the note accompanying the move sounds almost breathless:
“The upgrade of Ford’s long-term ratings anticipates that the company’s restructured business model will generate significantly improved operating and financial performance. The strength of this model is supported by a robust new-product program, a more disciplined approach toward production levels and incentives, the expanding cost benefits associated with the new UAW agreement, and solid progress in globalizing platforms and product offerings. This model is generating market share gains in the U.S., healthy price realization, and operating performance which is stronger than that which Moody’s had earlier anticipated.”
Investors who bought into this turnaround have done remarkably well. Ford’s stock has risen 511% over the past 12 months, making it the fifth-best performer on the S&P 500 over that period. The nearer term looks almost as good: the stock has risen 39.3% this year, making it the 14th-best performer on the S&P 500.
If credit rating agencies are beginning to move on the company, are analysts likely to follow? A quick glance at our Bloomberg terminal found that the average analyst’s target price on the stock is just $12.29 – or about 12% below the stock price on Wednesday afternoon.
Even if you confine your approach to just those analysts who have issued reports on Ford this month, the average target price among the three is just $14.33 – or 2.4% above the current price. That’s not much when you consider that two of these three analysts have “buy” recommendations on the stock (the third has a “hold” recommendation).