Moody’s downgrades Ford credit rating to junk status

DETROIT — Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded Ford’s credit rating to junk status.

The service says it expects weak earnings and cash generation as Ford pursues a costly and lengthy restructuring plan.

Ford responded with a statement saying that its underlying business is strong and its balance sheet is solid.

The rating for Ford’s senior unsecured notes and its corporate family dropped to Ba1, the top rating for debt that’s not investment grade. It had been Baa3, the lowest investment grade rating.

Moody’s says it expects Ford’s restructuring to extend for several years with $11 billion in charges and a $7 billion cash cost.

The ratings service said Ford’s outlook remains stable, but its cash flow and profit margins are below expectations and the performance of peer companies in the auto industry. “These measures are likely to remain weak through the 2020/2021 period including a lengthy period of negative cash flow from the restructuring programs,” Moody’s Senior Vice-President of Corporate Finance Bruce Clark wrote in a note to investors Monday.

Ford’s erosion in performance happened while the global auto industry was healthy, Clark wrote. Now the company and CEO Jim Hackett must address operational problems as demand for vehicles is softening in major markets, he wrote.

The company has $23.2 billion in cash, which is more than its debt, according to Moody’s. The stable outlook reflects Moody’s expectation that the restructuring will contribute to gradual improvement in earnings, profit margins and cash generation, Clark wrote.

Ford said it has plenty of liquidity to invest in its future.

“We are making significant progress on a comprehensive global redesign — reinvigorating our product lineup and aggressively restructuring our businesses around the world,” Ford’s statement said.

The statement said Ford already is addressing operating inefficiencies and problems with its China business.

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