Let's not get too picky: no matter how challenged the American auto industry is by the teetering global economy and reemergence of Toyota (NYSE:TM) and Honda (NYSE:HMC) from their tsunami-induced hibernation, at least Alan Mulally will still be at Ford (NYSE:F).
Well, not exactly.
In the last couple of days, speculation that Mulally might be shuffling off to play shuffleboard -- and "sooner than later," according to The Wall Street Journal -- hit the public square.
Yesterday, we learned from Reuters that in anticipation, Ford is refiguring its governing structure, possibly naming Mulally, one of the few CEO in this age of hacks that can accurately be called masterful, to a non-executive chairmanship post.
The goal is to keep the man who ran the company that lived involved.
If, the thinking goes, they let the former Boeing (NYSE:BA) official have a finger in the Ford pie forever, or thereabout, he will forever be sprinkling his pixie dust on the company. The stock market cheered the prospect yesterday, pushing the stock up 1.27%, adding to a good week for a stock that been down by nearly half since January 2011.
But the move is misguided.
First off, the prospect of Mulally leaving and "sooner rather than later" is terrible for Ford, no matter the terms. Mullaly singlehandedly saved the company. End of story.
Granted, there was no formal announcement and, for his part, Mulally hasn't even said that he was going to retire. But that the end of the Mulally era is blowing in the wind (Mark Fields, president of Ford's Americas stands as the anticipated successor) is not good for the stock over the short-haul.
Moreover, any plan to have Mulally lurking around, living some zombie-like undead CEO afterlife, will make it harder for Fields to establish himself as his own CEO, an absolute necessity.
Even beyond the succession plan, Mulally's double down on Europe makes the stock extraordinarily vulnerable to any bad news there. Ford is also losing money in China, so there is risk over weekend news there too.
Make no mistake about it: Mulally is a genius. Alongside Howard Schultz of Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) and the late Steve Jobs (NASDAQ:AAPL), he is one of the few that is not merely a corporate political opportunist. He can lead and take risks. Whatever quibbles you have with his decisions -- he appears, for example, to be overplaying his Europe card -- his departure is not good. Even talking about his departure and the potential board redesigns installed to compensate will unnerve traders, even if they reacted well to it the first few days. And that is why today, all told, we're going against the grain and suggesting selling Ford.
A note on performance. Each Friday, we'll take a look back at my last five trading suggestions, when there has been two days to determine whether I was a "Hero" or a "Goat." For this week's last five, here goes:
On Hewlett Packard (NYSE:HPQ) the first time: a goat. On Ford : a goat. On Merck (NYSE:MRK): a hero. On Hewlett Packard a second time: also, a goat. And on Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), too: goat. That marks a bad week, a really bad week, but remember: as any trader worth his salt knows, all that matters at the end of time is that your good trades outweigh your bad. We'll keep count as we go on…