(Adds CFO comments, background, Ford Credit profit forecast, updates stock price)
By Nick Carey
DETROIT, March 23 (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co said on Thursday it expects lower earnings per share in the first quarter and lower pretax profit in 2017 due to higher spending on commodities, warranties and investments and a drop in sales volumes especially fleet sales.
Ford shares were down nearly 1 percent at $11.66 in late morning trading after the announcement, which preceded an investor presentation by the company’s chief financial officer, Bob Shanks.
The presentation comes as the U.S. auto industry continues to see cars lose market share to trucks and SUVs, as low fuel prices have encouraged consumers to opt for larger vehicles that have become more fuel efficient in recent years.
“We think we can do more with trucks, we think we can do more with utility vehicles, we can do more with performance and we’ve got plans in place to do that,” Shanks said. “We think this can lead to an even stronger position for us in the years ahead.”
Ford said U.S. auto industry sales in 2017 should dip slightly to 17.7 million units, down from a record of 17.9 million in 2016. The company said sales should hit 17.5 million in 2018.
After a strong run in sales since emerging from the Great Recession earlier this decade, investors are watching to see whether the current boom cycle is losing steam.
Ford said it expects auto sales in China, the world’s largest car market, to dip to 27.2 million this year from 27.5 million in 2016.
“We believe Ford’s announcement today is the initial confirmation of our investment thesis that pricing is deteriorating in North America and in select international markets, particularly China,” Buckingham Research Group analyst Joseph Amaturo wrote in a client note.
This will “cause earnings and cash flow for Ford and GM to deteriorate and fall short of investor expectations and more importantly company guidance,” he wrote.
CFO Shanks said despite the expected dip in industry sales, “we’re very comfortable that our overall business will improve.”
Ford said it expects to earn between 30 cents and 35 cents per share in the first quarter. Analysts, on average, have expected earnings per share of 47 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
The company said its pretax profit forecast for 2017 was unchanged at $9 billion, against $10.4 billion in 2016, “driven by our planned investments in emerging opportunities, and to improve in 2018.”
The company also maintained its forecast for a pretax profit of about $1.5 billion for Ford Credit, its financial services arm, in 2017 and said that profit would improve in 2018.
Analysts expect Ford to post pretax profit of $9.2 billion.
Ford said as of February it had 79 days of gross supply of vehicles on hand, down from 84 days of inventory a year earlier. (Editing by Bernadette Baum)