Ford’s profit falls 39 percent in first quarter

fordFord Motor Co.’s worldwide sales rose in the first quarter, propelled by growing strength in Asia and Europe. But weakness in North America dragged down the company’s profit.  

Its earnings missed Wall Street’s expectations, while revenue beat. Its shares fell 3 percent in premarket trading.   Ford’s first-quarter net income fell 39 percent to $989 million, or 24 cents per share, down from $1.64 billion, or 41 cents per share, in the January-March period a year ago.   That was far short of Wall Street’s expectations. Analysts polled by FactSet forecast earnings of 31 cents per share.  

Revenue rose slightly to $35.9 billion, beating analysts’ expectations for $34.2 billion. Worldwide sales were up 6 percent to nearly 1.6 million.   Ford’s U.S. sales fell 3 percent to 580,260 in the January-March period, the victim of bad weather and low buyer interest in smaller, fuel efficient cars like the Focus and C-Max hybrid.

While the F-Series pickup continued to see gains, sales of other key vehicles like the Fusion sedan and Escape SUV were down.   In China, first-quarter sales soared 45 percent to 271,321 vehicles, while European sales were up 11 percent to 326,000.  

Ford’s North American operations were hit with $100 million in weather-related charges during the brutal winter, including increased costs for parts shipments. The company also set aside $400 million for its warranty reserves for the repair of prior models.   North American pretax profit fell 37 percent to $1.5 billion.  

Dearborn-based Ford enjoyed one of the best years in its history in 2013, with a pretax profit of $8.56 billion. But it has already warned that this year will be leaner as it launches a record 23 vehicles and builds seven plants around the world.

It’s anticipating 13 weeks of expensive down time — up from five in 2013 — at its two U.S. pickup truck plants to prepare for the launch of a new aluminum-clad F-150. The truck goes on sale later this year.   Ford says it still expects a full-year pretax profit between $7 billion and $8 billion.  

Its shares fell 48 cents, or 2.9 percent, to $15.84 in early premarket trading.