A Merrill Lynch analyst doesn't think Ford will live up to its guidance in 2004 and expressed scepticism over the earnings capability of two of the company's units, according to a Dow Jones Newswires report.

On Friday, Ford said earnings should rise to between $US1.20 and $1.30 a share in 2004 on stronger automotive operations, Dow Jones noted.

But Merrill analyst John Casesa expects Ford to earn just 90 cents a share in 2004, the report said.

In a report written last Friday, Casesa reportedly said that all car makers are expecting help from a stronger US economy this year, but "the upside in Ford's expectations versus ours is concentrated in PAG [the unit which produces brands like Volvo and Land Rover] and Ford of Europe, both of which have been performing poorly."

Dow Jones said that Wall Street expects Ford to earn $1.30 a share, according to Thomson First Call, with analysts' estimates ranging from 90 cents to $2.10 to a share.

The news agency said Ford will report 2003 earnings on January 22 and has given guidance for earnings in a range of $1.05 to $1.10 while Casesa predicts 2003 earnings of $1.07. For 2003, the First Call mean estimate is $1.10, Dow Jones added.

David Healy at Burnham Securities told the news agency he thinks Ford's 2004 guidance is on the conservative side, as the company indicated in an analysts' meeting on Friday.

"Their North American sales may be better than they are forecasting," he reportedly said.

According to Dow Jones, Healy said industry vehicle sales in the US could well come in better than the 17 million vehicles Ford foresees while the carmaker may exceed expectations on cost cutting.