DEARBORN, Mich. - Ford Motor Co. reported a $282 million loss yesterday for its first quarter, a sharp improvement over the $1.4 billion in red ink it posted during the same quarter last year.
Company officials touted the results as a sign that Ford's restructuring plans were taking hold, but the company still is struggling to make money on its core business of selling cars and trucks in North America.
The first-quarter results marked Ford's seventh consecutive losing quarter, but the automaker said the smaller deficit reflected its turnaround efforts aimed at cutting costs and rolling out new products to compete with Asian manufacturers.
Ford's revenue rose 5 percent, its loss excluding special items was smaller than Wall Street had expected, and its shares rose 32 cents, or 4.09 percent, yesterday to close at $8.20 on the New York Stock Exchange.
"Although these first-quarter results are encouraging, we still have a long way to go to turn around this business," chief executive officer Alan Mulally said in a conference call with reporters and analysts. "The basics of our business are improving."
However, Ford's new-vehicle sales in the United States fell more than 13 percent for the quarter, and its market share dropped from 17.2 percent in the first quarter of 2006 to 15.1 percent.
The Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX crossover vehicles were performing well, but sales fell for the company's flagship F-Series pickup trucks and its Explorer sport-utility vehicles. Both had been huge profit centers for the company.
The overall loss of 15 cents a share for the January-March period compared with a loss of 76 cents a share in the same period a year ago.
Revenue rose to $43 billion from $40.8 billion a year ago.
Although Ford's cash flow improved in the first quarter, the company still is on track to burn up $17 billion through 2009 to cover losses and restructuring costs, chief financial officer Don LeClair said.
Several industry analysts reacted to Ford's improvement with caution, saying the company still faced significant challenges.
"Nothing there has really changed our feelings that 2007 will be a year of tremendous cash losses," said Gregg Lemos-Stein, a credit analyst for Standard & Poor's in New York.
And David Healy, an analyst with Burnham Securities, said: "I think the quarter represented a high point" for the year.
Although the new crossovers and heavy-duty pickup trucks were off to a good start, Healy attributed Ford's sales decline to its plan to reduce low-profit sales to rental-car companies and to sluggish sales of its older models.
Despite the overall improvement, Ford said its core business in North America lost $614 million on automotive operations before taxes for the quarter, a sum greater than the $442 million it lost in the first quarter of last year. North American automotive revenue dropped from $19.8 billion in the first quarter of last year to $18.2 billion.