Ford finally turns a profit

DEARBORN, Mich. — Ford Motor Co. made $2.7 billion in 2009, its first annual profit in four years.

The automaker today also forecast a full-year profit in 2010. Earlier it had only promised to be “solidly profitable” in 2011.

Ford benefited from cost-cutting, a $696 million profit in its credit arm and popular cars and trucks like the Ford Fusion midsize sedan and Ford Escape small sport utility vehicle. It gained market share in North and South America and Europe, despite the worst U.S. sales climate in 30 years.

“While we still face significant business environment challenges ahead, 2009 was a pivotal year for Ford,” Ford CEO Alan Mulally said in a statement.

Ford’s 2009 net income of 86 cents per share showed a significant improvement from the year before, when it lost a record $14.6 billion. Excluding one-time items of $711 million, Ford made 43 cents per share. Those items included severance payments and retiree health-care charges.

The profit surprised Wall Street, where analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected an annual loss of 31 cents.

In the fourth quarter, Ford earned $868 million, or 25 cents per share, compared with a loss of $5.9 billion a year earlier. Ford earned money in three of the four quarters last year.

Ford said it will make profit-sharing payments to its U.S. hourly workers in March. They will be the first profit-sharing checks since 2004.

The Dearborn-based automaker’s debt load increased by $7.4 billion to $34.3 billion, largely because it took a charge of $7 billion to account for debt to a union-run retiree health-care fund. That puts Ford at a disadvantage to GM and Chrysler, who were able to shed debt in bankruptcy court.

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