Money Matters: Moody’s Downgrades Ford to Near Junk

Ford’s been wringing its corporate hands over stock prices for ages. While the market itself is generally rising, the Blue Oval seems to perpetually find itself in Wall Street’s basement. It is arguable that lackluster performance on this front cost Mark Fields his job earlier this year.

Things are not looking up in that department. Yesterday, FoMoCo’s credit rating was cut to Baa3 by Moody’s Investors Service, just a single notch above junk status.

Recently minted CEO Jim Hackett, formerly of Michigan furniture company Steelcase, and his merry band of Glass House denizens have recently set forth on an extensive restructuring program that could take years to complete. The automaker also bought the long-abandoned Michigan Central Station to restore it as hub for its future mobility ventures. Moody’s took a look at this activity, peered into their magic financial eight ball and said “the outlook is negative.”

Moody’s said the rating could be further downgraded if clear progress is not shown in its Fitness Redesign program by early-to-mid 2019. In fact, Moody’s described the chances of Ford’s rating being upgraded anytime through 2020 as “very modest.” Standard & Poors still rates Ford at BBB, which is two tiers above speculative.

Naturally, Ford spox raised their hands in protest, saying in a statement that the company has delivered strong financial results for nearly a decade. It also pointed to a strong balance sheet that provides financial flexibility.

The company has thrown all manner of items at its business model in an attempt to convince investors it’s worth the cash. From smart mobility (*retch*) to binning all its sedans, Ford is on a quest to reinvent itself and stem criticism from Wall Street. The amount of profit in the machine pictured at the top of this post is not lost on your author.

A decline into junk would be a disappointment to Ford after enjoying a half-dozen years of investment-grade status. Thanks to the foresight of Alan Mulally, a man who essentially mortgaged the company – including the fabled Blue Oval there on the building – for $23 billion back in 2006, the automaker avoided joining its U.S. peers in taking an embarrassing sojourn through bankruptcy during the financial crisis.

What is the road to a stock being labelled junk? A trio of ratings agencies assign grades to bonds, with AAA (Standard & Poors, Fitch) or Aaa (Moody’s) being the best or “prime.” When an investment falls below BBB- or Baa3 it becomes junk or speculative, as opposed to investment grade. There are sixteen ratings between prime and junk.

Ford’s stock has tumbled more than 20 percent, year to date, and as of this writing, sits below $10. General Motors has remained reliably above $35 since this time last year; FCA touched twenty euros earlier this year after spending all of 2016 and the first half of 2017 at half that price. The entirety of the S&P 500, meanwhile, has gained about 9.0 percent.

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