None of the options Ford Motor Co. may be considering - selling off its luxury brands, creating global alliances, taking itself private - would do much to solve the struggling automaker's basic problems, analysts said.
Ford is in talks with private equity units to sell some of its luxury brands such as Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo and Aston Martin, a source close to the talks said.
Ford Chairman and Chief Executive Bill Ford has also telephoned Carlos Ghosn, who heads both Renault SA and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd., to say that if his alliance talks with General Motors Corp. falter, Ghosn should consider talking to Ford Motor Co, newspapers have reported.
It's hard to imagine any deal - whether it's selling the luxury brands or bringing Carlos Ghosn in - serving as a panacea for Ford's near-term challenges, Standard & Poor's credit analyst Gregg Lemos-Stein said.
He considers Ford's immediate problems to be a deteriorating product mix, slipping market share and excess production capacity in North America.
Ford, which lost $1.44 billion in the first half of this year and has seen sales fall almost 10 percent through July, has hired Kenneth Leet, who previously led mergers and acquisitions teams at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Bank of America Corp., to explore strategic options, which could include the selling of luxury brands.
The first thing they should focus on is their buybacks, and then focus on selling a stake in (Ford's financing arm) Ford Credit, said credit analyst Philip Watkins of Commerzbank in London.
Selling off brands would only amount to tinkering, Watkins said. It's fine, but I don't think you're going to raise much money for any of these businesses. It's not going to solve their problems, which is to sell more cars.
Adding to the speculation surrounding the company, Ford said on Friday that Robert Rubin, a member of Citigroup Inc.'s Office of the Chairman and a former U.S. Treasury secretary, has resigned from Ford's board of directors.
Rubin said he resigned to avoid conflicts that may arise as the automaker weighs asset sales or other options that would involve investment banks.
This is disappointing news, Standard & Poor's equity analyst Efraim Levy said. They need someone with his expertise on the board in transactions the company is considering.
Ford's deepening sales difficulties have weighed on its share price for most of the year as Wall Street analysts have been skeptical about the pace of the company's turnaround efforts. Its stock is down nearly 80 percent from its all-time high of $37.53 in April 1999.
But the shares have been gaining since Wednesday, when investors welcomed the report that Ford was open to an alliance with Nissan-Renault. Shares rose 25 cents, or 3.2 percent, to close at $8.01 on Friday on the New York Stock Exchange.
Ford has said it will accelerate its turnaround plan, dubbed the Way Forward, to respond to weakening U.S. demand for fuel-hungry trucks and SUVs amid high gasoline prices.
The automaker said last week it would cut fourth-quarter production to its lowest level in 25 years, responding to weakening demand in trucks, a segment Ford dominates and has depended upon.
The production cuts represent the most significant news coming out of Ford all week, Lemos-Stein said. The key now is what measures Ford will announce in September to accelerate its efforts on the costs side, where they have not been aggressive enough.
Ford in January said it will close 14 plants and slash up to 30,000 jobs by 2012, but many analysts have said that is not soon enough.
CreditSights, an independent credit researcher, questioned the idea of Ford taking itself private, a move the newspaper USA Today said the automaker was considering.
Such a move would beg questions around control and what would be the viable exit strategy and also whether the Ford family would later need to kiss their super-voting rights goodbye to save the family jewels, CreditSights said.
The Ford family owns about 5 percent of Ford's shares and controls about 40 percent of the voting power through a separate class of stock.
It's not about possible deals, Standard & Poor's Levy said. Ultimately, it comes down to bringing out products people want to buy. What I'd like to see, and what Ford really needs, is a product-driven renaissance.
(Additional reporting by Michael Flaherty in New York)
(Reporting by Jui Chakravorty, editing by Gary Hill)