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Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F)

March 01, 2012 10:00 am ET

Executives

Erich Merkle -

Ken Czubay - Vice President of US Marketing Sales & Service

Jenny Lin -

Analysts

John Murphy - BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division

Colin Langan - UBS Investment Bank, Research Division

Patrick Nolan - Deutsche Bank AG, Research Division

Joseph Spak - RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division

Christopher J. Ceraso - Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division

Operator

Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Ford Monthly Sales Conference Call. My name is Erica, and I'll be your coordinator for today. [Operator Instructions] I would now like to turn the presentation over to your host for today's call, Mr. Erich Merkle, U.S. sales analyst. Please proceed.

Erich Merkle

Thank you, Erica. Hello, everyone, and welcome to Ford's February 2012 sales call. We're going to get things started, jump right into it here.

We estimate that total U.S. industry sales including medium and heavy trucks finished the month out at approximately 1,130,000. We could have -- we could have seen a high -- perhaps a trend as high as 1,150,000 vehicles. This would equate to an approximate 10% increase for the industry versus year ago in levels that are going to be in the -- would give us the SAAR in the high 14 million range to perhaps as high as 15 million. Ford sales totaled 179,119 vehicles in February, providing us with a 14% increase versus year-ago levels. Year-to-date, Ford sales are up 11%, with 315,829 vehicles sold.

In February, we saw 2 interesting trends. Sales picked up pace as the month progressed. And as the month unfolded, consumers increasingly shifted towards more fuel-efficient vehicles. We estimate that small cars as a percentage of overall retail sales for the industry moved close to 24% in February. This would really be consistent with the small car share last seen in March and April of last year, our last significant increase in fuel prices.

We saw a similar trend at Ford. Focus for instance saw a 115% increase in sales versus February of last year. We saw fuel prices influence Ford sales in a few other ways as well. And here to tell you more about that today is Ken Czubay. Ken?

Ken Czubay

Thank you, Erich, and good morning, everyone. Happy March 1. First of all, let me say that we are very pleased with our overall performance and our balance across cars, utilities and trucks.

This month, dealers throughout the country told us that fuel prices weighed heavily on the purchasing decisions of our customers in February. We saw this first hand in our business with very strong demand for Focus, Escape and a strong mix of full size V6 pickups.

Dealers are telling us that customers are recognizing Ford for investing in new vehicles that deliver top fuel economy. Last week, I was at the Cleveland Auto Show, where Ford announced the expansion of the EcoBoost production at our engine plant, how timely. By the end of 2012, nearly 1/3 of Ford's vehicle lines in America feature a model that delivers 40 miles per gallon or better, a claim no other full-line automaker can match.

Now Erich mentioned Focus. Focus sales totaled 23,350 in February, representing 115% increase compared to February of last year. Last month represented the best February Focus sales performance since 2012 -- excuse me, since 2000, 12 years ago. No other vehicle in the Ford lineup contributed more to Ford's sales growth last month.

California, which I've been talking about often, saw 123% increase in retail Focus sales, a higher increase than January's impressive 86% gain. California is the biggest small car state in the country and is now our top retail sales state for the Focus. Focus is really gaining momentum in California, in the East Coast and throughout the country.

Small utilities continued to perform well at Ford too, with Escape setting another best-ever sales month for February. This is in addition to the best-ever January record at the beginning of the year. Year-to-date, Escape sales are up 12%, on top of their record-setting pace last year. Explorer sales also continued to grow in February with 10,440 vehicles sold, an 8% increase versus last year. Now Explorer is the fastest moving vehicle in the Ford show room.

As we head into an environment of higher fuel prices, best-in-class fuel economy provides a strong advantage to Explorer. As many of you know, last fall, Explorer and Edge introduced 2.0-liter EcoBoost engines, providing consumers with 28 miles per gallon and 38 miles per gallon, respectively. Notwithstanding the segment shifts that Erich talked about, Ford F-Series were up 26% in February with 47,273 pickups sold. Fuel economy is certainly back on the minds of pickup truck buyers also, and we are very pleased that Ford has plenty of fuel-efficient choices for truck customers. Ford has captured more than 75% of the V6 full-size pickup truck market with its new line of V6 powertrains.

In February, Ford sold 57% of its retail F-150 pickups equipped with V6 engines, including 43% with EcoBoost. Finally, Lincoln saw an increase in February with sales up 16%. Our key vehicles providing this lift were: MKZ, up 40%; MKS, up 51%; and MKX, up 33%.

Overall, we are very pleased with our February performance. And in this environment, we are confident that our continued investment in new vehicles and powertrains will provide customers the power of choice in selecting the fuel-efficient Ford vehicle that best meets their needs.

Now I'd like to turn it over to Jenny for our latest update on the U.S. economy. Jenny?

Jenny Lin

Thanks, Ken. Since our last update, the economic indicators so far are showing good improvement. Initial jobless claims at 354,000 as of February 25 on the 4-week moving average basis. See those levels since April 2008. January unemployment rate declined to 8.3%, with 243,000 jobs created during this month. Both indicators suggest a firming job market. Now February employment report will be available next week, on March 9.

U.S. consumer sentiment moved up in the February reading from 75 to 75.3, despite concerns in rising fuel prices, Middle East instability or uncertainty of future U.S. economic policy. Good time to buy a vehicle index has been stable at 59%.

This morning's Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index was down slightly to 52.4% in February. But with new orders, production and employment sub-indices all growing. This is still signify that in general, the manufacturing sector continue to expand.

January industrial production was flat from December. However, this was mainly dragged by production decline in the utility sector affected by unusually mild weather. Manufacturing production was up 0.8% from December, propelled by good growth in consumer good durables that includes Automotive products and also business equipment.

Furthermore, recent indicators appear to offer some signs of hope that the housing sector are showing some signs of life. And let's don't forget the Federal Reserve are still holding the exceptionally low interest rate at least through late 2014. This would still be favorable for auto and housing purchases.

After enjoying the relatively stable of the retail, of gas price a few months now, we have now recently observed the increasing in the gas price. In February, it increased by $0.20 from January to an estimated $3.58 per gallon with this week's national average above $3.70 per gallon. This average price is about $0.35 per gallon higher than this time last year. This early rise in gas price can be attributed to tensions in the Middle East and expectations of better economic growth. So far, the improvement in the consumer sentiment appear to be holding up well despite all these uncertainties. Better job outlook presently is able to contain negative news.

To recap, as Ken and Erich pointed out earlier, the U.S. new industry -- new vehicle industry sales in February were estimated in the high 14 million to 15 million unit range at the seasonally adjusted rate including medium and heavy duty trucks. Our present call for the full year U.S. industry sales is to be in the range of 13.5 million to 14.5 million units. We are encouraged by the strong performance during the first 2 months of the year and we're continuing to assess our full year industry sales guidance.

With this summary, let me turn it back to Erich.

Erich Merkle

Thank you, Jenny. Now for -- to kind of take care of a few housekeeping items. I wanted to start off and provide the folks out there with some inventory numbers.

When we take a look at February of 2012, we saw that cars at Ford Motor had -- we had 160,000 cars in inventory. Trucks were at 194,000 in inventory. Utilities were at 137,000. This provided us with a total of 491,000 vehicles in inventory, which translates into a day's supply of 68.

As for our mix, when we take a look at our fleet for the month of February, our total fleet was 32%, it was 32% of total sales. Of that mix, rental was 15% of total sales. Commercial was 14%. And government was 3%. Year-to-date, total fleet is 31% of our total sales. Rental is 12%. Commercial is 15% and government is 4%.

Now you also noticed today that we released our guidance for North American production for the second quarter. Our production guidance for the second quarter calls for 730,000 vehicles to be produced. Of that, 270,000 are cars. Utilities, we are calling for 206,000. And lastly, trucks at 254,000. This represents a 3% increase over the total one year ago.

With that taken care of and out of the way, Erica, I would like to turn it over to the folks in the analyst community and we'll take questions from them. Thank you so much.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

[Operator Instructions] And our first question comes from the line of John Murphy of Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

John Murphy - BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division

First question. As we look at your forecast or assessment for full year demand and then also look at your second quarter production schedule of up only 3%, you sort of indicated that you're expecting a real deceleration in the second quarter, to something that's in the 13 million unit range and maybe a little bit better for the rest of the year, but a real deceleration from January and February. What's driving that expectation?

Ken Czubay

Well, John, as we previously indicated, we're adding capacity this year. And we're very comfortable with our plans to add capacity, specifically in Q2 and in the second half of the year. And we will plan our business as capacity meets demand. So we're comfortable with that.

John Murphy - BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division

So if there were a higher SAAR than you're looking for, you're comfortable that you could meet that with product volume and potentially maybe instead take a little bit of price? I'm just trying to understand if the market share shapes up better than you think, which way you'd go there, volume or price?

Ken Czubay

Well, we're going to be competitive in the marketplace and we're going to gear our production to meet demand. And we've outlined our plans for production this year.

John Murphy - BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division

Okay. And then just 2 quick product questions. Where are you in the Fusion changeover to the new vehicles? It looks like there was a little bit of weakness. Just curious if you guys are starting to skinny back inventory there a little bit. And then also the F-Series, obviously, was very strong in the month. Is that really a function of underlying demand for pickup trucks? Or do you think you're gaining market share there given, really, the great fuel efficiency you're providing with the EcoBoost engine?

Ken Czubay

Well, first off on Fusion, I think we're right on our glide path. We're very happy with that. And relative to F-Series, you're right. I mean, for 47,000 F-Series in a 29-day month, what it's telling us is that consumers are voting for Ford as they have for the last 35 years. And I would suspect, all the numbers aren't in, but we have probably gained some market share. They are attracted to the fuel economy of F-Series pickups.

Erich Merkle

And, John, I would also just add that Fusion, while it was down 6% year-over-year, it is again going up against a record sales month in February. So February 2012 was actually the second best selling month for Fusion on record. So it continues to perform very well for us.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Colin Langan with UBS.

Colin Langan - UBS Investment Bank, Research Division

Obviously, we're starting off very strong in January and February. Are there any factors affecting these months that should actually help the SAAR in terms of maybe some of the inventory restocking in the industry, as well as the weather's been pretty warm so far. Are those causing this to be a little bit higher than normal?

Ken Czubay

Jenny, go ahead.

Jenny Lin

Yes, I think it's very encouraging to see the recovery of vehicle sales. I think the economy is playing a big part of it as people returning to jobs, as employment conditions continue to improve. We will see people going for the new vehicles because we've been waiting for this with the -- because the average vehicle age has been above 10 year old. So we are, at this time, that the pent-up demand will pick up.

Ken Czubay

Colin, what I'd add to that is that our dealers are telling us that specifically, as Jenny pointed out, the average age of the fleet is now over 11 years. It's at an all-time high. Consumers are coming in to repair vehicles and the Ford dealership is pointing out that the savings and fuel economy and getting a new vehicle can oftentimes be more than the repair bill. I mean, we can turn it into a winner for you. And we're finding at Ford dealerships that the fuel economy story is ringing not only on the show room but it's ringing on the service lane. So it's just that pent-up demand and the stability and improving economic indicators that Jenny has indicated is bringing it all full circle for us.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Rod Lache with Deutsche Bank.

Patrick Nolan - Deutsche Bank AG, Research Division

It's Pat Nolan on for Rod. Just had a couple of questions. First, Erich, can you discuss what you saw month-over-month as far as pricing for both Ford and the industry?

Erich Merkle

Yes, certainly. When we take a look at pricing for the month, when you look at it sequentially, Pat, it was flat. There really wasn't any change for the industry in terms of pricing. And when we look at it on a year-over-year basis, it's actually down a little over $300.

Patrick Nolan - Deutsche Bank AG, Research Division

Okay. And do you have any estimate of what the retail versus fleet SAAR looks like this month?

Ken Czubay

Hey, Pat, let me correct. Year-over-year, Erich was right. Month-to-month, the industry pricing was essentially flat. Year-over-year, it's been up as we've -- about -- a little over $500.

Patrick Nolan - Deutsche Bank AG, Research Division

Okay. And do you have an estimate of what the retail versus fleet SAAR looks like this month?

Erich Merkle

Retail versus fleet SAAR? Yes, it's about a 80%-20% split between the 2.

Patrick Nolan - Deutsche Bank AG, Research Division

And lastly, I just wanted to follow up on Erich's comments earlier this week about the mix shift in the month. Could you just maybe discuss what you're seeing as far as the shift towards small cars kind of versus seasonally, does this make sense or is that much worse year-over-year and what you're seeing?

Erich Merkle

Yes. I think it goes a little beyond the seasonality of it. So generally speaking, when we see a strong rotation such as the one we're seeing, it's very similar to what we saw in March and April of last year. So small cars, which should really been operating at December, a little under the 20% threshold. We saw them pick up a bit in January to what we estimate a little over 20%. And now we're, for this month, somewhere close to 24% is possibly where we’ll be for this month in terms of the small car, in terms of a percent to total industry. So we really did see, it's a pretty significant increase in the share growth of the small car, which also tended to play out during the month of February. So the small car actually continued to pick up and gain momentum as gas prices went higher.

Ken Czubay

What I'd like to add is that we were in a position with the balance of our car, utility and truck offerings to do well in each of those 3 super segments. So like I pointed out a couple of moments ago, with F-Series slightly under 50,000 in a 29-day month. We're serving all 3 of those super segments with the fuel economy story that we have across the board.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Joseph Spak with RBC Capital Markets.

Joseph Spak - RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division

A couple of quick ones. One, I was wondering if you could highlight the days supply inventory on the Escape as that product winds down. And then secondly, is there any update on -- I know you gave the EcoBoost mix on the F-Series. Is there any update on that mix on the Explorer?

Ken Czubay

Sure. I can fill you in on all that data. On the Escape, the days supply is about 70. So it's again on that great glide path that I talked about in changing over. And EcoBoost on the Edge was 18% and this is since the fall. And EcoBoost on the Explorer is about 12%. So we're really pleased that consumers are shifting over to that 2-liter EcoBoost.

Joseph Spak - RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division

Okay. And I mean, I guess at the dealer level, are you finding that consumers are coming and looking for the small car or more fuel-efficient vehicles? Or are they sort of been convinced of that once they step into the dealer?

Ken Czubay

Well, they're driven to the Ford dealership and they're driven, like everybody else, we filled up our tank with gas this morning. And when they go to the Ford dealership, they're very pleased to see that there are fuel-efficient vehicles in every segment. So they're not being forced into something they don't need. If they want a utility, we offer utilities with superior fuel economy in EcoBoost. And if they want small cars, we have a plethora of them. And they're not being driven out of pickup trucks, as evidenced by the almost 50,000 pickup trucks sold with 46% of them EcoBoost and over 1/2 of them on V6. So they're not being driven to any particular super segment. They're just -- they can find what they want at the Ford dealership.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Chris Ceraso with Crédit Suisse.

Christopher J. Ceraso - Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division

Two questions. One about the Mustang and then one for Jenny. The Mustang was really strong number this month and this is typically not Mustang season. So I'm wondering if this is an example of how some of the favorable weather that we've had is affecting sales or if maybe there's something else going on there? Was there a change in incentives or a particularly large fleet delivery of that vehicle?

Ken Czubay

No. We did have, as we have throughout the year, we had some fleet deliveries. But the retail Mustangs were up significantly year-over-year. We have a great V6 offering there. And I think in this instance, the weather helped it. It's a seasonally strong vehicle but we're going to be introducing the '13 model. And I think it was strong demand fueled mostly by early spring.

Christopher J. Ceraso - Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division

Okay. Is that a decent read across to maybe what kind of an impact we're seeing across some other categories too?

Ken Czubay

You mean relative to...

Christopher J. Ceraso - Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division

To the weather.

Ken Czubay

The weather is an interesting phenomenon. I mean, obviously, if people get stuck in with a blizzard they can't buy cars, but the weather also prolongs people where the cars all start in warmer weather. So it's kind of a little bit of a trade-off. I think there are much bigger drivers that are driving the industry. The improvement in the economy that Jenny talked about. And frankly, the age of the inventory of -- in consumers’ hands and the fact that it's a great time to buy right now.

Christopher J. Ceraso - Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division

Right. And just one for Jenny on fuel prices. Do you have a view as to whether or not higher fuel prices will have an effect on the number of vehicles sold? Or do you think it's more of an effect on the type of vehicles, in other words, the mix?

Jenny Lin

Well, Chris, at this just point, I think that it is too early to tell because that we are on a recovery mode in terms of industry sales. So certainly that the -- if the vehicle -- gas supplies keep going up like this, people may cut some discretionary spending. However, with the economy improving and the employment situation improving, people need new cars going back to work. So I think that will offset -- the positive offset of negative influences to the gas price.

Erich Merkle

Thank you. Erica, if we could turn it over to some of the folks in the media at this point. I'll much appreciate it. Thank you.

Operator

[Operator Instructions] And our first question comes from the line of Chrissie Thompson with Detroit Free Press.

Chrissie Thompson

So I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about gas prices and perhaps the effect on investors. Often times, we see companies like Ford that sells quite a bit of trucks that high gas prices will scare off investors. Can you talk about what the EcoBoost might mean for that this year?

Erich Merkle

Well, certainly. We've got a -- we actually manage our business with a full line of cars, utilities and trucks. And we aim to deliver really best-in-class fuel economy across all those segments in which they compete. So we're just really pleased that, at this point, it's something that we've been working for, working toward over the last 3 to 4 years that we've got this nice broad portfolio of products, whether it be pickup trucks, which I will add, responded as you will see very -- as you can see very well in February at 26% increase. And we've got a number of small fuel-efficient cars and things in between, so.

Ken Czubay

Chrissie, I think we'll have more information about on that at the financial update in April.

Chrissie Thompson

Sure. Do you think you can say unequivocally that if the gas prices continue to rise that, that won't affect your truck sales this year because of EcoBoost?

Ken Czubay

Here's what I will say unequivocally. The fleet of truck sales is aging more quick, more rapidly than the overall fleet. And as Jenny pointed out, with the improvement in the economy, we'll see more truck buyers back in the market. And I will say they will be attracted to the Ford trucks that deliver superior fuel economy and performance.

Operator

And our next question comes from the line of Jeff Bennett with The Wall Street Journal.

Jeff Bennett

Erich, a quick question for you on Fiesta sales. Why were those down this year, I mean this month? Was it due to incentives offered on the Focus or what do you think happened there?

Erich Merkle

No. If you look at Fiesta, it was a -- if you look at February of last year at 6,270, that's a very tough comparison. And this year, of course, we have an all-new Focus out. So when you look at the 2 of them combined, our small cars were up significantly.

Ken Czubay

Jeff, what I would add to that is when a consumer goes into the Ford showroom, he has a great choice. He has a choice between a Fiesta, a Focus, a Fusion and an Escape. And data shows that consumers cross-sell and cross-shop them a lot. And people come in, thinking they're going to look at one particular nameplate that we have and they have such a great array of choices. And they often land on, as Erich said, they'll land on the new Focus when they thought they were coming in for a new Fiesta. So our -- we actually viewed it as a super segment between those models. And our business is up significantly in that super segment.

Jeff Bennett

Okay. And just lastly, in the second quarter, Jenny does it appear that gas prices will remain at these levels? I know it's hard to predict. But I mean, is that kind of the feel that over the next 3 months, we could stay at this $3.58 to $3.75 level?

Jenny Lin

No. I don't think I can make that kind of prediction. It will be -- whatever that will be depends on the external environment, which is not under our control.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Dee-Ann Durbin with the Associated Press.

Dee-Ann Durbin

I was actually going to ask Jeff's question, so it got taken. But I will ask you quickly about incentive spending on trucks. It just seemed like there was an unusually high increase for trucks this month. And I wondered about any promotions that might have been going on that boosted those sales a little bit.

Erich Merkle

For incentive spending on trucks, when we look at just the overall industry, it's actually put, Dee-Ann, at flat. And when you look at it compared to a year ago, it's actually down. So it remains fairly consistent. We haven't seen any...

Dee-Ann Durbin

For the industry, but what about for Ford?

Erich Merkle

I'm sorry?

Dee-Ann Durbin

For the industry, but what about for Ford?

Erich Merkle

For Ford, over a year ago, we're actually down and we're in line with the rest of the industry.

Dee-Ann Durbin

On trucks?

Erich Merkle

Actually, we're lower than the rest of the industry.

Dee-Ann Durbin

I'm sorry, on trucks or for the whole company?

Erich Merkle

For trucks or the whole company?

Ken Czubay

On trucks.

Dee-Ann Durbin

On trucks, okay.

Erich Merkle

On trucks, yes.

Operator

And our next question comes from the line of Brad Wernle with Automotive News.

Bradford Wernle

I also had the question on Fiesta. But I have a question, if I you could clarify on the mix of the V6's EcoBoost versus non-EcoBoost on the F-Series.

Ken Czubay

Sure. Go ahead, Erich.

Erich Merkle

Yes. The EcoBoost for the F-150, 43%.

Bradford Wernle

Of total?

Erich Merkle

Of retail.

Bradford Wernle

Yes. But versus non-EcoBoost, it's EcoBoost versus well...

Ken Czubay

What we did -- what we have, Brad, is 57% of our retail sales were V6. And 43% of our retail sales were EcoBoost and the F-Series.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Keith Naughton with Bloomberg.

Keith Naughton

I'm wondering if you could share with us the days supply on Fiesta, Focus and Fusion. And if it's where you want it to be?

Ken Czubay

Sure. On Fiesta, the days supply is 90. On Fusion, the days supply is 71. And on Focus, the days supply is 56. We view that going into March as almost perfect.

Erich Merkle

Yes.

Keith Naughton

And what would make it entirely perfect?

Ken Czubay

Based on the sales pace, a few more.

Erich Merkle

A few more.

Keith Naughton

And the last thing on this point. So Focus had 5 down months and now is up, and now Fusion has had 2 down months. So -- and I know you're talking about the super segment a moment ago, Ken. So is it that you can't have all 3 up at once because there is so much cross shopping?

Ken Czubay

Well, first of all, as you're aware, 2 of them are on our glide path for balance out as we prepare for the exciting 2013 Escape and Fusion. So we're on that glide path. And secondly, I think it's really driven by when the consumer goes in the show room, he may or she may believe that they want one. And then they shift over to the vehicle that best meets their needs. There's tremendous cross-shop. And we're pleased as a punch that we can make all the offerings on the Ford showroom.

Operator

We have no further questions from the media.

Erich Merkle

Okay, very good. Well, we appreciate everyone tuning in. And we’ll look forward to speaking with you all again next month, when we have our March sales call. Thank you very much.

Operator

Thank you for your participation on today's conference. This concludes the presentation. Everyone may now disconnect and have a great day.

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