Ford Motor Co (F.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) is expected to post a large first-quarter net loss amid the global economic downturn that has pressured results in the United States, Western Europe and other developed economies.

Still, investors are expected to be more focused on how much cash the automaker ran through in the first three months of the year, the available cash at the end of March and its U.S. auto sales outlook for the rest of 2009.

Ford, the only U.S. automaker not operating on emergency loans from the U.S. government, posted a record $14.7 billion net loss in 2008 and its losses have totaled $30 billion over the past three calendar years.

Investors will likely look past the raw numbers to what Ford has to say about its ability to operate without help from the government and any benefit it might reap from the struggles of rivals General Motors Corp (GM.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and Chrysler LLC.

Analysts expect Ford to post losses across the regions. On average, the first-quarter loss is expected to be $1.23 per share excluding one-time items, according to Reuters Estimates. It posted a 20 cent per share profit a year earlier.

Ford expects its automotive operating related cash flow to be significantly improved in 2009 from the $21 billion it burned through last year, but still negative.

The automaker ended 2008 with $13.4 billion of cash, but drew a $10.1 billion line of credit in the first quarter to support the turnaround plan.

We expect management to focus on sequential firming as a result of international incentive programs and progress Ford has made in strengthening its balance sheet, Barclays Capital analyst Brian Johnson said in a note to clients on Thursday.

Earlier this week, Ford investors got a shot in the arm when Goldman Sachs upgraded it to buy, saying that it expected the automaker to benefit the most from the structural changes within the sector.

Ford announced earlier this month it had slashed its automotive debt by $9.9 billion, or by about 38 percent, to bolster its finances amid the deep industry downturn.

Johnson said Ford's debt swap and potential market share gains due to GM and Chrysler struggles were positives for Ford, but he was skeptical of the recent rise in the share price.


Ford shares closed up 4.9 percent at $4.49 on Thursday, bouncing back from the 27-year-low of $1.02 it hit in November during the fractious Washington debate over emergency funding for the auto sector.

Ford's share count could more than double if it pays half of its VEBA obligations in stock at about a $2 share price and if it pays the obligation in cash, the increase in debt likely would offset the benefit of no dilution, Johnson said.

Ford has been restructuring its operations for several years, including an extensive plan to convert plants in North America to build smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles.

GM and Chrysler have been operating with $17.4 billion in emergency U.S. government loans. The Obama administration has rejected GM's restructuring plan and ordered the automaker to cut deeper and move faster if it wants continued support from the government.

For Chrysler, the Obama administration has ordered the automaker to complete an alliance with Italy's Fiat SpA (FIA.MI: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and cuts to its debt and labor costs by the end of April to maintain current support and get additional funding.

The New York Times reported on Thursday the U.S. Treasury was preparing a bankruptcy filing for Chrysler to finalize the Fiat alliance process that could come as early as next week.

Johnson said Ford is not likely to need government cash given the debt exchange and improvement in Europe and Brazil due to scrappage programs and other incentives.

We do not view a GM or Chrysler (bankruptcy) filing as necessitating a Ford filing, Johnson said.

Goldman Sachs analyst Patrick Archambault also said he believed Ford would avoid bankruptcy.

U.S. auto sales were down more than 38 percent through the first three months of the year, reaching their lowest run rates in 27 years under the severe U.S. recession.

In recent months, programs that provide incentives when owners turn in older vehicles for new purchases have supported sales in some European countries, helping bolster Ford sales there. Similar programs could be adopted in the United States.

Ford also may update investors on its Swedish Volvo car brand. Ford has been in discussions with potential buyers for the brand, the last from its former premier auto group.

The automaker sold off Aston Martin, Jaguar and Land Rover to raise cash for a turnaround and to narrow its focus to mainly the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands.

(Reporting by David Bailey; editing by Patrick Fitzgibbons and Andre Grenon)