October 24, 2018 / 8:23 PM / 21 days ago

UPDATE 2-Ford third-quarter profit beats estimates, shares rise

(Recasts first paragraph, adds CFO comments on margin target, background, details)

By Nick Carey and Ben Klayman

DETROIT, Oct 24 (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co on Wednesday reported slightly higher-than-expected third-quarter profit and stuck to its targets for the year, raising investor hopes for a strong fourth quarter and sending its shares up 7 percent after hours.

Profit was down as high commodity costs and a China sales slump partially offset strong demand for pickup trucks and SUVs in North America.

The No. 2 U.S. automaker maintained its full-year earnings forecast. Last quarter, Ford announced a pending restructuring that could lead to pre-tax charges of up to $11 billion and Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks said Wednesday that plan remains in place.

But the CFO said while Ford is still committed to an overall pre-tax margin target of 8 percent, the company will not hit it by 2020 as previously announced.

Some investors and analysts have been frustrated at a lack of details of those plans and Shanks said the company still has nothing to announce at this time.

"Nothing has changed in terms of providing a lot of details," Shanks said.

Ford's vehicle sales in China fell 43 percent in September from a year earlier and are down 30 percent in the first nine months of the year. Ford blames its weak China business on an aging model lineup that is awaiting an overhaul.

Late Tuesday, Ford named a new chief of its China operations, ending a nine-month search and putting in place an American national born in China.

The automaker has said it would not see a boost in China until it new SUVs begin rolling out there in 2019 and 2020. Speaking to reporters at Ford's headquarters, CFO Shanks said that industry-wide Chinese vehicle sales would see a slight decline in 2019 versus 2018. Shanks said Ford welcomed the tentative agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico on an updated version of the North American Free Trade Agreement, but said the automaker would also like to see tariffs on steel and aluminum addressed as part of the revised treaty.

Hopefully those tariffs "will be eliminated and we'll get more normal economic pricing," Shanks said.

Last month, Chief Executive Jim Hackett said U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs would cost the automaker $1 billion in profit in 2018 and 2019.

Virtually all of Ford's quarterly profit came from sales of high-margin pickup trucks like the F-150 and SUVs in North America. Ford has been increasingly reliant on the full-size F-150 pickup truck to drive results.

Ford said it managed a North American third-quarter pre-tax margin of 8.8 percent.

The No. 2 U.S. automaker reported a third-quarter net profit of $993 million, or 25 cents per share, a 36-percent drop from $1.6 billion, or 39 cents per share, in the year earlier quarter.

Excluding one-time items, Ford earned 29 cents per share in the quarter, 1 cent above average analyst estimates, according to Refinitiv.

Revenue for the quarter rose to $37.7 billion from $36.5 billion a year earlier.

The company said that it still expects full-year earnings per share in a range of $1.30 to $1.50, after earning 95 cents per share through the first three quarters of the year.

Ford shares rose 7 percent in trading after the closing bell.

They had closed at a 9-year low on Wednesday of $8.18. The last time shares hit that level, the industry was being battered by the Great Recession and its U.S. rivals General Motors Co and Chrysler, now part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV had just emerged from government-led bankruptcies.

Reporting By Nick Carey Editing by Nick Zieminski

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