Ford’s (NYSE:F) fourth-quarter earnings report was as mixed as the company’s overall outlook. The automaker’s earnings came in below analysts’ consensus estimate, but its revenue beat their average forecast.
Ford stock rose more than 3% following the report. However, it fell back after the excitement faded, and F stock is again trading near its pre-announcement levels.
Nonetheless, F stock has recovered from the $7.41 low it reached at the end of December. Given that recovery, it may have found a floor. Although the stock faces formidable challenges, its valuation metrics and possible upcoming events could make Ford stock tradeable.
The Good and the Bad of Ford Stock
Put simply, Ford stock is a mixed bag. The U.S.-China trade war has hurt the company’s sales, and it has struggled outside of North America. During the fourth quarter, the EBIT of Ford’s Middle East/Africa region increased, and Ford maintained its market share in Europe. However, every other metric of all of its markets outside of North America fell. Ford also faces the ongoing concerns of pension costs, labor issues, and interest rates.
Fortunately, it has found one compelling silver lining: North American truck sales. Continuing a trend that has been in place for years, the Ford F-150 truck is continuing to outsell the competition. In 2018, the company sold more than 909,000 F-150 pickup trucks.
That exceeded the combined 806,000 Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks that General Motors (NYSE:GM) sold. It’s also close to double the sales of the Dodge Ram built by Fiat Chrysler (NYSE:FCAU). Also, U.S. companies continue to dominate the domestic truck market, as Toyota (NYSE:TM) and Nissan (OTCMKTS:NSANY) combined only sold one-sixth as many trucks as Ford.
These numbers reinforce the wisdom of Ford’s decision to largely exit the passenger-car business. According to J.D. Power, the average cost of new pickup trucks now exceeds $44,000, well over the $32,500 average price of all new vehicles. The high margins of trucks help Ford compensate for its lagging overseas sales, particularly in China.
Ford Stock Is a Buy, Just Not a Long-Term Hold
The current dividend yield of F stock is just above 7%. Moreover, the stock’s forward price-earnings ratio of 6.2 might also lure investors. Although every major car company other than Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) has long held a single-digit multiple, Ford’s forward PE is well below the average multiple of 9.8 that Ford stock has maintained for the last five years.
A few tailwinds could return Ford stock to that multiple. Negotiators seem optimistic that the trade war with China could end sooner rather than later. After the conflict ends, Ford’s car sales in the world’s most populous country should increase. Furthermore, the Fed also looks set to stop its interest-rate hikes. That should keep the more rate-sensitive consumers in the auto market.
At around $8.45 per share, the Ford stock price stands at less than half of its 2014 peak. Even if it just returns to the $10 range over the next year, that, combined with the 7% dividend, amounts to a return of about 25%.
Despite the strengths of Ford, I only recommend trading Ford stock. Over the longer term, the outlook of Ford stock seems more uncertain. The 60-cent per share annual payout represents a drop from the 83 cents-per-share dividend that F stock paid in 2018. Since the payout tends to fluctuate, I would not consider the dividend as secure as that of high-yield, dividend-aristocrat stocks such as AT&T (NYSE:T) or AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV).
Moreover, even if the trade war with China ends, Wall Street expects Ford’s profit growth to be meager as the company’s pension and labor issues will probably continue to weigh on its bottom line. Analysts predict that the company’s profits will shrink in fiscal 2019. They also estimate that its profit will increase by an average of just 3.8% per year over the next five years.
However, given the 6.2 forward PE ratio of Ford stock, these issues are probably baked into Ford stock price. If one is looking for a play on a U.S.-China trade deal, Ford stock could fill that role for awhile.
The Bottom Line on Ford Stock
Although the long-term outlook of F stock appears to be bleak, the equity looks well-positioned for a short-term trade. The company faces challenges that will probably dampen enthusiasm for F stock for years to come.
However, with a forward P/E ratio of 6.2 and a dividend yield above 7%, any tailwind could result in a significant return over the short-term or medium-term. A trade agreement with China and/or interest rates that stay low enough to entice U.S. buyers could provide the necessary catalyst.
I do not recommend taking a long road trip with Ford. However, for a short trek, F stock could provide a nice ride.
As of this writing, Will Healy is long ABBV stock. You can follow Will on Twitter at @HealyWriting.