Ford goes Full Austerity

Today’s headline – Ford – is neither a triumph nor failure.

This time of year, economists and analysts trawl through company reports, hawkishly eyeing up the losers and winners from the past year, but today’s headline – Ford – is neither a triumph nor failure. The US car giant’s better-than-expected profits in North America, with revenues up 13 per cent, are buttressed against a 21 per cent decline in Europe.

However, the US car giant needs to be more worried about its performance across the water. Ford’s sales on the continent have plummeted to levels last seen in 1995 and what is worrying is that Ford’s executives aren’t worried. The company today released the bland comment citing that, “The business environment remains uncertain, and Ford will continue to monitor the situation in Europe and take further action as necessary”.

Such a statement, void of commitment, will do little to calm the company’s investors, let alone its European plant workers. Factory redundancies before Christmas caused riots in Genk, Belgium. In the UK job losses will also result out of plant closures in Southampton and Dagenham, East London.

So why is Ford not overly concerned of its continental money well? In October it rolled out its “European Transformation Plan”. This plan writes off afore mentioned factory closures as “cost efficiency actions”. It also forecast today’s headline European losses as the company consolidates assembly plants, introduces a new cars and focuses on increasing its brand and cutting costs.

Overall, it appears that Ford has implemented a policy akin to that of our Coalition Government. Austerity is the key word and plans to be for the next half decade for Ford’s European operations. Poor growth results will be ignored as unfortunate consequences of a larger plan as Ford, held up by US profits, will continue to cut expenditure in Europe.

While it comes as no surprise that Europe has been a stagnant market for cars since 2007, the UK has actually bucked that trend with sales hitting a four year high. And our most popular car – the Ford Focus.

In the past, Ford has often provoked strong reactions. Photograph: Getty Images

Oliver Williams is an analyst at WealthInsight and writes for VRL Financial News

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I was wrong about Help to Buy - but I'm still glad it's gone

As a mortgage journalist in 2013, I was deeply sceptical of the guarantee scheme. 

If you just read the headlines about Help to Buy, you could be under the impression that Theresa May has just axed an important scheme for first-time buyers. If you're on the left, you might conclude that she is on a mission to make life worse for ordinary working people. If you just enjoy blue-on-blue action, it's a swipe at the Chancellor she sacked, George Osborne.

Except it's none of those things. Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is a policy that actually worked pretty well - despite the concerns of financial journalists including me - and has served its purpose.

When Osborne first announced Help to Buy in 2013, it was controversial. Mortgage journalists, such as I was at the time, were still mopping up news from the financial crisis. We were still writing up reports about the toxic loan books that had brought the banks crashing down. The idea of the Government promising to bail out mortgage borrowers seemed the height of recklessness.

But the Government always intended Help to Buy mortgage guarantee to act as a stimulus, not a long-term solution. From the beginning, it had an end date - 31 December 2016. The idea was to encourage big banks to start lending again.

So far, the record of Help to Buy has been pretty good. A first-time buyer in 2013 with a 5 per cent deposit had 56 mortgage products to choose from - not much when you consider some of those products would have been ridiculously expensive or would come with many strings attached. By 2016, according to Moneyfacts, first-time buyers had 271 products to choose from, nearly a five-fold increase

Over the same period, financial regulators have introduced much tougher mortgage affordability rules. First-time buyers can be expected to be interrogated about their income, their little luxuries and how they would cope if interest rates rose (contrary to our expectations in 2013, the Bank of England base rate has actually fallen). 

A criticism that still rings true, however, is that the mortgage guarantee scheme only helps boost demand for properties, while doing nothing about the lack of housing supply. Unlike its sister scheme, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, there is no incentive for property companies to build more homes. According to FullFact, there were just 112,000 homes being built in England and Wales in 2010. By 2015, that had increased, but only to a mere 149,000.

This lack of supply helps to prop up house prices - one of the factors making it so difficult to get on the housing ladder in the first place. In July, the average house price in England was £233,000. This means a first-time buyer with a 5 per cent deposit of £11,650 would still need to be earning nearly £50,000 to meet most mortgage affordability criteria. In other words, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is targeted squarely at the middle class.

The Government plans to maintain the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which is restricted to new builds, and the Help to Buy ISA, which rewards savers at a time of low interest rates. As for Help to Buy mortgage guarantee, the scheme may be dead, but so long as high street banks are offering 95 per cent mortgages, its effects are still with us.