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Ford shares fall after $2B judgment in dealer suit

Ford shares: Ford is appealing the decision. Ford chief counsel David Leitch said Monday that it will likely take several years for the case to wind its way through the Ohio appeals system.

The Ford Motor Company logo is shown during the firm's annual meeting of shareholders in Wilmington, Delaware on May 12.

Tim Shaffer/Reuters

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Ford Motor Co. shares sank early Monday after an Ohio judge said the automaker had to pay nearly $2 billion in damages to thousands of dealerships who participated in a 2002 class-action lawsuit. But the shares pared their losses as several analysts downplayed the news and said Ford can absorb the damages even if loses a planned appeal.

THE SPARK: Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Peter Corrigan in Cleveland issued the ruling based on a Feb. 11 jury determination that the company overcharged dealers for commercial trucks over 11 years. The $2 billion award covers more than 3,000 dealerships and about 474,000 trucks. It includes a judgment of about $781 million and about $1.2 billion in interest.

Ford is appealing the decision. Ford chief counsel David Leitch said Monday that it will likely take several years for the case to wind its way through the Ohio appeals system.

Standard and Poor's reiterated its "Buy" rating on Ford Monday afternoon, saying that if Ford loses the appeal it would be "costly but absorbable," with Ford taking a hit of around 47 cents per share. Barclays Capital analysts also reiterated a "Overweight/Neutral" rating and said they don't expect a significant impact to Ford's cash position in the near term because of the length of the appeals process.

THE BACKGROUND: The class action included all dealers who purchased a 600-series or higher truck from Ford from 1987 to 1997. Plaintiffs accused the automaker of failing to reveal that price concessions were given to some dealers.

Ford said Monday that it believes the court committed numerous errors, including certifying all of the dealers as a class.

"This decision is far outside the bounds of normal legal procedure," Leitch said. He noted that Ford won a similar case in federal court in 2009.

STOCK ACTION: Shares fell more than 3 percent to as low as $12.78 on Monday, but pared losses to finish down just 21 cents at $13.14. Ford shares have traded in a 52-week range of $9.75 to $18.97.


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