(Corrects eighth paragraph to show Executive Chairman Bill Ford is Henry Ford’s great-grandson, not his grandson)
By Tom Hals
WILMINGTON, Del., May 9 (Reuters) - The executive chairman of Ford Motor Co asked for patience from investors who pressed him about the company’s languishing stock price at the automaker’s annual meeting on Thursday.
Despite 15 straight profitable quarters, Ford’s share price has lagged the S&P 500’s gains for about two years. The stock was little changed at $14.22 on Thursday afternoon.
“Just hang with us,” Bill Ford said in response to two questions about the company’s stock. “Our performance has been pretty good.”
Ford and Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally emphasized record profits and margins and a turnaround plan in Europe, although the automaker expects to lose another $2 billion on the continent this year due to a deep economic downturn.
Chief Financial Officer Robert Shanks also urged shareholders to take a long view regarding growth outside the United States. He said heavy investment in Asia would begin to pay off and allow Ford to rely less heavily on the U.S. market.
“So just a little more time and you’ll see all parts of the company humming quite nicely,” Shanks told shareholders.
A shareholder proposal to strip the Ford family of its 16 votes per share received the strongest support ever, with support of 33.4 percent of votes. Ford recommended against the proposal. Last year, 29.5 percent voted for it, according to Ford spokesman Jay Cooney.
“Having the family vote and ownership position really allowed the company to stay focused and not get distracted and survive and ultimately thrive,” said Bill Ford, great-grandson of founder Henry Ford, told the press after the meeting.
Stockholders approved the board’s recommended slate of directors, executive incentive plan and expressed support for executive pay. About 70 shareholders attended the meeting in Wilmington. Ford is incorporated in Delaware. (Reporting By Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Kenneth Barry)