It appeared as though investors were expecting a solid sales number from the automaker when the monthly figure was released on June 3.
From the close on Friday, May 24, shares ran higher by nearly 10% over the next five trading sessions. While traders may have "sold the news," long-term investors surely were pleased.
Ford said sales in May were up 14% from a year before. Although rival General Motors did see a 40% jump in its Cadillac sales, GM was able to increase total U.S. sales by only 3.1% when compared to last year.
Nissan was the biggest winner, with a jump of 24%, while Toyota and Honda both posted positive figures: 2.5% and 4.5%, respectively.
So what is all of this saying? Consumers are spending, and they are confident that they will continue get paid. They seem optimistic about their personal finances, their investments (with the S&P 500 up roughly 15% year to date) and their job security. But there's one shining light that may provide the hidden answer to the boost in auto sales: pickup trucks.
On May 2, it was announced that Ford would be adding a third shift to one of its assembly lines for the F-Series truck. This is great news for Ford, because the F-Series has been the top-selling vehicle in the country for 31 consecutive years.
The auto giant didn't disappoint investors when it was announced that it sold more than 71,000 of the trucks for the month of May. This represents a 30% jump in year-over-year sales and brings the year-to-date total to nearly 300,000 units, which by itself represents a 22% jump compared to last year's YTD sales figures.
In 2012, many thought that auto sales were surprisingly strong. So with strong sales last year and even stronger sales this year, why aren't shares of Ford and other automakers trading much higher?
Ford continues to struggle with its European operations. Although some investors have begun warming up to shares of Ford on the premise that Europe is improving, I wouldn't be so fast to agree. Don't get me wrong, I love Ford and its stock. I just don't think that Europe is going to rebound quickly enough to benefit Ford in the near future.
Last quarter alone Ford lost more than $450 million in the region. Although it's hard to lay off workers and bear some upfront costs of shutting down plants, CEO Alan Mulally is doing his best to right the ship. He predicts that Ford will be at breakeven by 2015 in Europe.
Ford lost approximately $2 billion in Europe for fiscal 2012. With $460 million last quarter, it is very slowly closing that gap to breakeven. Additionally, there is very little economic data that would point to Europe being in any sort of "recovery."
Although many continue to state that Europe is bottoming -- or close to bottoming -- I would advise investors to pump the breaks, no pun intended. The auto stocks will be a huge beneficiary of an economic recovery in Europe. But it will be slow.
I own shares of Ford because of its long-term value, earnings power and strong dividend yield, but this is not a stock to chase. It will pull back and go lower. That goes for the entire auto sector as well.
Ford shares recently tried to break through the $16 ceiling but eventually failed, even with those stellar sales numbers. Wait for a crack below $15 before dipping your toes in. Traders have a habit of pumping the stock ahead of monthly sales data and earnings reports. Anything short of perfection will cause a slight selloff.
Things are improving for the autos and they have a solid long-term outlook, but pump the brakes before you go "pedal to the metal."
At the time of publication, Kenwell held shares of Ford.
-- Written by Bret Kenwell in Petoskey, Mich. .
This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.