DEARBORN, Mich. — Ford Motor Co. earned $2.1 billion in the first quarter as the economic clouds parted and consumers grew confident enough to buy cars again. But the confidence didn't extend to investors, who pushed Ford's shares down Tuesday on concerns that the automaker's recovery isn't sustainable.
The profit of 50 cents per share was its fourth straight positive quarter. It's an about-face from the same period last year, when Ford lost $1.4 billion, or 60 cents per share, at the height of the recession. Ford said it expects to be solidly profitable in 2010, a year earlier than its previous guidance.
But investors worried that the company can't maintain its strong gains in the second half of the year. Ford's first-quarter U.S. market share made its biggest jump in 33 years, for example, and is unlikely to keep growing at that pace. Ford also faces higher prices for steel and other raw materials, rising interest rates and expected weaker European demand.
Ford shares fell 89 cents, or about 6 percent, to close at $13.57.
Ford relied heavily on a $528 million profit from its finance division this quarter, but Ford Credit's revenues are expected to dip later this year because fewer cars were sold during the recession so there will be fewer payments to collect. Ford Credit's annual profit will likely be flat at $2 billion, the company said.
Lewis Booth, Ford chief financial officer, acknowledged that the company's performance might not be duplicated in subsequent quarters. But he predicted Ford will end the year with even stronger full-year earnings than its first-quarter results. "We would not have improved our guidance if we thought this was just a wild quarter," he said.
Ford's first-quarter revenue rose 15 percent to $28.1 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had expected $30.5 billion. Booth said revenues would have been higher but the company excluded $3.5 billion in income from Volvo, which it is selling to Chinese automaker Geely Holding Group. That sale will close in the third quarter.
Ford saw $1 billion in gains from vehicle pricing. That's because prices for some models rose, demand for more profitable vehicles like the top-selling F-150 pickup grew, and Ford limited incentive spending.
But it will be hard for Ford to make as much money from its vehicles as commodity costs rise and the company spends more on upcoming product launches.