Ford Motor Co (F.N) on Thursday moved to hoard cash on its balance sheet, drawing down $15.4 billion from two credit lines and suspending its dividend, in a move to bolster reserves to ride out damage to its business from the coronavirus pandemic.
The No. 2 U.S. automaker, whose shares were up 0.4% at $4.52 after sinking as much as 8.9% in early trading, also abandoned its 2020 financial forecast and said the cash would be used to deal with a squeeze on capital caused by shutdowns in production due to the fast-spreading virus.
Comparing the current situation to the 2008-2009 financial crisis, Chief Executive Jim Hackett said Ford was putting in place safeguards to protect its business.
“While we obviously didn’t foresee the coronavirus pandemic, we have maintained a strong balance sheet and ample liquidity so that we could weather economic uncertainty and continue to invest in our future,” he said in a statement.
Ford has come under fire from some analysts on Wall Street for moving too slowly to cut costs and restructure its business.
At the end of last year, it had booked only $3.7 billion of the projected $11 billion in charges it previously said it would take in its global restructuring.
Since then, the outbreak has spread globally, leading Ford, General Motors Co (GM.N) and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCHA.MI), (FCAU.N) on Wednesday to announce the shutdown of their North American plants to prevent the spread of the disease among their factory workers.
All three Detroit automakers have seen U.S. employees test positive for COVID-19, the contagious respiratory illness caused by the virus.
The epidemic has already hit other automakers and more are expected to slash their 2020 forecasts. Ford gets more than 35% of its sales from outside the United States.
Ford said Thursday it notified lenders it would borrow the unused amounts of the two credit lines, totaling $15.4 billion. The Dearborn, Michigan-based company had $22 billion in cash at the end of last year.
The dividend suspension will save Ford money at an annual rate of $2.4 billion.
The company said it was prioritizing financial flexibility and investments in future technologies such as self-driving cars and a series of important 2020 vehicle launches including a redesigned version of its top-selling F-150 full-size pickup truck.
Ford also withdrew its 2020 profit outlook. In February, before the coronavirus hit the United States, it offered a weaker-than-expected forecast, warning of higher warranty costs, lower profits at its credit arm and continued investments in future technology such as self-driving cars.
At the time, it said it expected 2020 operating earnings in the range of 94 cents to $1.20 a share.
Ford said it would update its outlook when it reports first-quarter results on April 28.
Contributed by HE Prof Colin O Jarrett
Director of News and Current Affairs