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Old 08-23-2006, 20:18   #1 (permalink)
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US:Ford stock gains after Renault-Nissan report

Ford stock gains after Renault-Nissan report

Reuters

DETROIT (Reuters) -- Shares in Ford Motor Co. rose more than 5 percent today as investors greeted a report that the struggling No. 2 U.S. automaker was open to an alliance with Nissan-Renault.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that Ford Chairman and CEO Bill Ford had called Carlos Ghosn, who heads both Renault SA and Nissan Motor Co. to discuss possible cooperation.

The newspaper said Ford had recently called Ghosn to say that if ongoing alliance talks with General Motors faltered, Ghosn should consider talking to Ford.

Both Renault and Ford declined to comment on the report. Said Ford spokesman Oscar Suris: "We are just not commenting on speculation."

But traders took the report as a cue to buy Ford shares, sending the stock back above its year-end 2005 close of $7.75.

Ford's deepening sales difficulties have weighed on its share price for most of the year and Wall Street analysts have been skeptical about the pace of company's turnaround efforts.

But Ford's commitment to announce a stepped-up cost-cutting plan in September and consider other steps have sent shares higher since late July.

Limited teams of GM, Renault and Nissan executives are currently studying the possible benefits of an alliance and are expected to report back to Ghosn and General Motors Chief Executive Rick Wagoner by mid-October.

Billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian, the largest single shareholder in GM, suggested the three-way tie-up and made his suggestion public in late June out of apparent frustration that Wagoner was not acting faster.

GM management has committed to a full study of a Renault-Nissan deal, but a number of analysts have questioned the logic and savings of the potential combination for the world's No. 1 automaker.

By contrast, Bill Ford said in July his company was open to alliances but that there were no discussions ongoing.

Ford, which is slashing fourth-quarter production in reaction to a drop in sales of its market-leading pickup trucks, has acknowledged courting Ghosn for a senior post at Ford in Dearborn, an offer that Ghosn declined.

Analysts said Ford could be a more natural candidate for a tie-up with Nissan-Renault than GM, which is widely seen as having a faster-moving turnaround plan and a comparatively stronger pipeline of upcoming vehicles.

"I think it's a better fit for Ford than it is for GM," said Erich Merkle, an analyst with IRN, Inc. "But even if, hypothetically, there were an alliance between Ford, Renault and Nissan, Ford would still have deep problems."

Merkle said he expected that Toyota Motor Co. would overtake Ford in annual sales to become the No. 2 player in the U.S. market in 2007.

Ford's core problem, Merkle said, was the lack of breakout new vehicles in its short-term product plans, something that an alliance would not address.

"What Ford needs is a silver bullet and I just don't think that exists in the short term," he said.

One obstacle to a Nissan-Renault alliance with Ford could be the controlling stake that the Ford family has in the automaker, analysts said.

Ghosn has said that he would want to take a substantial stake in GM under a potential alliance. A similar deal with Ford would require the support of the founding family, who control the board through their ownership of a separate class of stock.

The Class B stock held by Ford family members allows 16 votes per share compared to one vote per share for regular shareholders.

"That would be an interesting issue that could break this thing," said Kevin Reale, an analyst with AMR Research.

Ford U.S. vehicle sales dropped almost 10 percent in the first seven months of the year.

The company's board will meet in mid-September to consider an accelerated restructuring plan, expected to include stepped-up job cuts and a wider buyout offer for unionized factory workers, similar to a company-wide attrition plan used earlier this year by Ford's larger rival GM.
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