Ford unveiled the 2017 Escape this week at the LA Auto Show.
The 2017 Ford Escape | Courtesy of Ford Motor Co.

Ford Motor Co. today reported record profits for 2015, thanks in large part to strong sales in North America. Fourth-quarter results beat analyst expectations — but investors remained uncertain, punishing the stock in early morning trading.

Ford said it had generated pre-tax profit of $10.8 billion in 2015, up $3.5 billion from 2014. The company generated 86 percent of that pre-tax profit in the United States. Full-year net income was $7.4 billion, up $6.1 billion from a year earlier.

Ford 2015In the fourth quarter, the automaker booked pre-tax profits of $1.9 billion, compared to a loss of $4 billion in the fourth quarter of 2014. Fourth-quarter net income, at $1.9 billion, compared to a loss of $2.5 billion a year earlier.

Ford said its North American operations had an “outstanding” year, producing pre-tax profit of $9.3 billion, up $1.9 billion from a year earlier. The company said it shared about $9,300 per eligible United Auto Workers-represented employees.

Ford employs about 10,000 in the Louisville area. Workers produce the Ford F-Series Super Duty, the Lincoln Navigator and Ford Expedition SUVs at the Kentucky Truck Plant, and the Ford Escape SUV at the Louisville Assembly Plant.

The Lincoln brand had its best U.S. sales year since 2008, the company said. The brand’s SUV sales were up 21 percent last year.

Ford had said earlier this month that in 2015 it had sold the highest number of vehicles in the U.S. in nine years, and that the F-Series remained the nation’s top vehicle for the 34th year.

Ford said today that it also performed very well in Asia last year, where pre-tax profits were up 29 percent from 2014, and the fourth quarter was a record, despite a slowing of the Chinese economy.

The company’s European unit “returned to profitability,” Ford said. Sales volume increased 10 percent, but revenues fell slightly.

In the Middle East and Africa, Ford said it received its first pre-tax profit since the region became a business unit two years ago.

South America was a trouble spot for Ford — and other automakers — last year, with sales volume, revenues and operating margin falling compared to 2014 “as a result of the continued deterioration of the business environment,” the company said.

The automaker said it expects pre-tax profit for 2016 to match or exceed results from 2015. Ford said it will have another strong year in the U.S. and higher pre-tax earnings in Europe and Asia, with flat results in the Middle East and Africa. South America, however, will remain difficult. Ford said it expects its 2016 pre-tax net loss from the region to exceed this year’s.

Shares fell about 2.5 percent in morning trading. GM shares were down 1.3 percent. Broader markets posted slight gains.

Forbes suggested that Ford’s stock has fallen in the last few months because “Wall Street believes auto sales — and Ford profits — have peaked.”

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Boris Ladwig
Boris Ladwig is a reporter with more than 20 years of experience and has won awards from multiple journalism organizations in Indiana and Kentucky for feature series, news, First Amendment/community affairs, nondeadline news, criminal justice, business and investigative reporting. As part of The (Columbus, Indiana) Republic’s staff, he also won the Kent Cooper award, the top honor given by the Associated Press Managing Editors for the best overall news writing in the state. A graduate of Indiana State University, he is a soccer aficionado (Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln), singer and travel enthusiast who has visited countries on five continents. He speaks fluent German, rudimentary French and bits of Spanish, Italian, Khmer and Mandarin.