DETROIT (AP) -- The Standard & Poor's ratings agency has raised its outlook on Ford Motor Co. from "Stable" to "Positive," but it stopped short of increasing the company's credit rating to investment grade status.
Ford, however, already has been restored to investment grade with banks because two other ratings agencies, Fitch Ratings and Moody's Investors Service, have moved the company up from junk status.
S&P said in a statement Friday that it would keep Ford at a BB-plus credit rating, one notch shy of the BBB-minus needed for investment grade.
But S&P said that Ford's North American performance supports good cash flow and profits, and it believes the company will restructure its European operations so they return to profitability even if there are several more years of weak sales in the region.
"If we believe Ford is on track to be profitable in Europe, this would improve the balance of profitability across regions and support an investment-grade rating," credit analyst Robert Schulz said in the statement. He added that the agency wants a good understanding of the company's 2014 profit prospects by region before upgrading its rating. "We assume that profits and cash use in Europe will get worse before they get better," he said.
Ford spokesman Jay Cooney called the change a positive development. "Clearly the S&P recognized the strength of our North American operations," he said in a statement. "Everyone at Ford is totally focused on continuing to make progress on our plan to deliver profitable growth."
In May, Ford was restored to investment grade status when Moody's upgraded the company out of junk status. Fitch had raised its rating in April.
The moves meant that Ford regained custody of its famed blue oval logo, which was mortgaged along with factories and other assets to secure a $23.5 billion loan in 2006. The loan helped the company avoid bankruptcy protection and make it through the Great Recession and financial crisis. The company never stopped using its logo or the other assets.
Shares of Ford fell a penny to $9.33 in Friday afternoon trading. They have risen in recent days after hitting their 52-week low of $8.92 on Aug. 2. The high for the stock for the past year was $13.05 on Jan. 26.