Ford investors shower execs with praise at meeting

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Ford executives won rave reviews from stockholders Thursday during the shortest company shareholder meeting on record.

Thursday's meeting in Wilmington, Del., drew about 60 investors and lasted only 45 minutes. Much of it spent involved shareholders praising CEO Alan Mulally and Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. for the company's turnaround.

"You guys are doing a tremendous job," said Frank DeFazio, a shareholder from Tucson, Ariz.

Mulally told shareholders the company is no longer in turnaround mode.

Ford, great-grandson of founder Henry Ford, noted that the Dearborn, Mich.-based company reported its third consecutive annual profit last year — $20.2 billion. The company's worldwide sales rose 6.7 percent to nearly 5.7 million cars and trucks, despite slowdowns in Europe and China.

He also noted that Ford resumed paying a dividend in March for the first time since September 2006. Last month, Fitch Ratings raised the automaker's credit from junk status to the lowest investment-grade rating.

Both men brushed aside questions about how long Mulally might stay with Ford and who might replace him.

"I look forward to continuing to serve," said Mulally, who was hired from Boeing Co. in 2006 to revive the struggling automaker.

"Needless to say, the board is more than happy with the way Alan has led this company," said Bill Ford.

Mulally's pay package rose 11 percent last year to $29.5 million, roughly equal to a little more than $5 for every vehicle sold, but there were no rumblings of resentment from shareholders. More than 96 percent of the nonbinding say-on-pay vote was cast in support of the company's executive compensation.

Shareholders also overwhelmingly rejected a proposal for each share of Ford's outstanding stock to have one vote. In fact, the proposal gained less support than it did last year. The Ford family currently has voting control of Ford Motor Co. because of a two-tier share structure that gives it 16 votes per share.

Ford's stock price rose 7 cents, or 0.7 percent, to $10.76 in afternoon trading Thursday. The shares are up from a 52-week low of $9.05 in early October but down 31 percent from their high of $15.35, reached almost a year ago.

While Ford's financial performance has improved in recent years, the company faces tough competition from other automakers.

Sales at Toyota and Chrysler rose in April, for example, while GM's and Ford's declined. Ford's U.S. sales were off 5 percent, and sales of its Fiesta subcompact fell 44 percent as customers chose larger vehicles. Sales of the Escape small SUV dropped 20 percent as Ford cleared out old models in advance of a new version this year. Besides offering new Escapes and Fusion sedans in North America this year, Ford will roll out new models in South America and Europe.

Nevertheless, recent increases in car and truck sales prompted Ford to announce Tuesday that it would add a week of production at 13 North American factories. The goal is to build an additional 40,000 vehicles this year.

Mulally said he expects industry-wide sales of between 14.5 million and 15 million in North America this year, and global sales of about 80 million, up 5 percent from last year.

"Our strong sales performance will continue in 2012, but the significantly stronger overall industry in the U.S. will make it a challenge for us to equal our full-year market share of last year," Mulally said.

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