Spurred by their ability to remain financially solvent throughout the recession, Ford (NYSE:F) continues to impress investors with its ability to increase its global sales.
The rise of Ford has been a combination of circumstances, clever marketing techniques and its ability to appeal to a large global market by offering a significant variety of luxury and economy-priced cars. This combination has led Ford to its current position where shares are selling at around $12. Despite Ford's recent fluctuation, it is my opinion that Ford will continue its upward trend in 2012 and reach levels at or beyond their 52 week highs.
The foreign news for Ford has been good in 2012. February sales of Ford vehicles in China totaled 40,978, a 28% increase. These numbers are in spite of the recent economic downturn in China that has indicated a 3% drop in the delivery of passenger autos and light-goods vans in January and February.
Although the 3% drop is troubling, these numbers have been greatly influenced by the timing of the Chinese Lunar New Year. This 15 day celebration results in many dealerships closing down for at least one week.
China's gas prices have also begun to influence the Chinese automobile market as Chinese consumption continues to rise. Most recently gas was selling at around 8.3 yuan ($1.26) per liter. As reported by the WantChina Times, these prices have now exceeded the price per gallon being paid in the United States.
As the unrest in oil producing countries such as Libya continues to play a significant role in Chinese markets, there is significant concern that gas prices will continue to increase. The anticipated market implications of these rises is that many Chinese consumers will now turn to vehicles that are less expensive and command higher fuel economy.
As a result of these increasing gas prices, competition between Ford, Honda and General Motors will be primarily based on each of these companies ability to market fuel efficient, moderately priced vehicles that will appeal to middle class Chinese consumers.
To meet the increasing demand Ford recently opened its fourth vehicle assembly plant in China that will concentrate on manufacturing the globally popular Ford Focus. This vehicle has long been popular for its initial cost, which starts at around $18,000 and its 40 miles-per-gallon fuel economy. This new plant will increase Ford's production in China from 450,000 to 600,000 vehicles per year.
Based on Ford's innovative responsiveness to the changing demand in the Chinese automobile market, it has maneuvered into a prime position to maximize its ability to capitalize on the appeal of the Ford Focus. This move in my opinion will allow Ford to exceed its 28% sales increase in the coming months that should result in a significant spike in April and May dividend payouts.
Although affordable and fuel efficient vehicles is currently Ford's primary focus in China, recent increases in Chinese purchases of luxury cars such as BMW (BMWG.DE), Audi (NSU.DE) and Mercedes (OTCPK:DDAIF) have led Ford to believe that there is money to be made outside the economy vehicle class.
Ford's plans to introduce its Lincoln line of vehicles to the Chinese market have been greatly influenced by the 18 million luxury vehicles that were sold in 2011 and the expected 35% growth that is to occur in 2012. This encouraging trend in my opinion will not only bolster Ford's position to the middle class Chinese consumers but will also allow it to compete with the staggering growth of the upper class consumers. This move in my opinion will contribute significantly towards increasing Ford's cash flow in the Chinese market, allowing it to further reduce the $13.1 billion debt owed at the end of 2011.
Ford's continued drive to impact foreign markets has also been strengthened by the unfortunate circumstances that arose in Japan after the devastating tsunami. This disaster, which claimed over 19,000 lives, set Honda (NYSE:HMC), Toyota (NYSE:TM) and Nissan (OTCPK:NSANY) back significantly. Although these companies have begun to see sales return to pre-tsunami levels, its momentum in the Chinese markets has been greatly affected. As a result, companies such as General Motors (NYSE:GM), who surpassed Toyota in global sales and Ford, who greatly benefited from a shortage of Toyota Prius during the height of the gas crises, have been able to establish a firmer hold on the United States and foreign markets.
Ford has continued to make progress in other markets such as India that have seen a substantial growth in their middle class. As a result of this growth, there has been a significant increase in demand for passenger motor vehicles. Future projections, as released by The Society of Indian Car Manufacturers, show that car sales will increase in India by approximately 11 to 13 percent in the upcoming fiscal year.
These encouraging numbers have caused Ford to make an aggressive approach in the Indian automobile market by its plans to construct a $900 million plant that will double their production to 600,000 vehicles per year. Ford's focus in India will be to produce low cost, fuel efficient vehicles such as the Ford Fiesta to appease the increased demand for such vehicles.
Although the outlook for Ford is bright, several of its' competitors have also begun to realize the potential in the Indian car market and have begun to undertake significant efforts to further its foothold.
Toyota announced that it will be increasing production by spending $220 million so they can reach a production capacity of 310,000 vehicles by 2013.
Nissan, although a substantially smaller player in the Indian market, has seen consistent growth since its introduction of the Nissan Micra in May, 2010. February sales were particularly positive as Nissan sold a record 5,371 units.
General Motors, the world's number one selling vehicle brand, has made efforts to compete with Ford by its investment of $500 million to raise its productivity from 85,000 to 110,000 per year.
Although the issue with Ford's competitors is concerning, it is my opinion that Ford's monumental expansion into a growingly popular market has placed it in a position to exceed the projected 11-13% growth in Indian automobile sales for the upcoming fiscal year.
Although the foreign numbers are a positive sign for Ford moving forward, the United States numbers posses far more optimism for investors.
As the buy local movement has continued to increase in strength, the growing sentiment among American consumers is that Ford has once again become a name that symbolizes reliability. This public relations victory continues to gain strength as Ford has shown a commitment to contribute to the American relief effort. This has never been more prevalent than Ford's recent commitment to donate significant amounts of money to assist Louisiana Tornado victims.
Ford has been substantially rewarded by the American consumers for its efforts as February sales topped 179,000, numbers that have not been seen since 2000.
It appears from the many moves of Ford that it's making all the right decisions across the globe to further bolster its sales and to further improve their position in the United States. As a result, the Ford name will continue to prosper in the upcoming year and is currently selling at a discount to fair value at its current market price.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.