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by Matt Brogan

Ford, the only US car manufacturer operating without federal loans, burned through $5.5 billion in cash during the final three months of 2008.

Ford finished the year with cash reserves of $13.4 billion. The company said it is drawing down $10.1 billion in available credit lines immediately because of concerns about unstable capital markets and the uncertain economy.

The company reported a net loss of $5.9 billion for the fourth quarter, compared with a loss of $2.8 billion a year earlier, capping its third straight year without a profit.

“Ford and the entire auto industry faced an extraordinary slowdown in all major global markets in the fourth quarter that clearly had an impact on our results,” CEO Alan Mulally said in a statement.

Some analysts say Ford needs at least $10 billion on hand to continue running its operations. At the fourth-quarter cash burn rate of $1.83 billion a month and not taking other steps into account, Ford was on a pace to cross that threshold by the end of February.

CFO Lewis Booth said today that won’t be the case, because the company’s expects to deplete its cash reserves more slowly this year.

“We look at our burn rate every day,” Booth said. “We are confident that our burn rate will substantially slow in 2009, including in the first quarter.”

Ford said it has adequate liquidity and is taking steps to bolster it, including the conversion of a temporary asset account with the UAW. Discounting any cash used during January, the company’s cash reserves now stand at about $26 billion.

However Ford burned less cash in the fourth quarter than it did in the July-September period, when it went through $7.7 billion. Ford finished the third quarter with $18.9 billion in gross cash.

For all of 2008, revenue fell to $139.3 billion from $173.8 billion.




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