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Ford Motor Co. (F - Analyst Report) intends to hire 2,200 salaried workers in the U.S. this year in order to support its new product launches at a fast pace. This, along with the recent dividend hike and expected recovery in the auto industry sales, sent the stock to 52-week high of $14.07 on Jan 11.

The company’s plan to hire more workers is a part of its 2011 contract with the United Auto Workers union, under which the company committed to create 12,000 jobs in the U.S. by 2015. Good news is that the company is more than halfway in its commitment, including the latest decision to hire.

Last year, the automaker hired 8,100 combined hourly and salaried workers in the U.S. as the company boosted manufacturing capacity in order to meet burgeoning demand for its fuel-efficient and advanced vehicles. Among these jobs, roughly 1,000 were hourly jobs brought back to the company’s plants in the U.S. from other locations, including Japan and Mexico.

Recently, Ford surprised investors by doubling its quarterly dividend payment to 10 cents from 5 cents for the first quarter of the year. The increased dividend will be paid on Mar 1 to shareholders of record as on Jan 30. The automaker last paid a dividend of 10 cents per share in June 2006, which was reduced to 5 cents in September 2006.

Ford is the only Detroit automaker that survived the global economic crisis without seeking bankruptcy protection unlike General Motors Company (GM - Analyst Report) and Chrysler. Last year, the company regained its investment-grade ratings from two agencies, including Moody’s and Fitch Ratings, and got its iconic blue oval back following the release of all the assets pledged while securing the $23.5 billion loan in 2006 for its turnaround plan.

Auto sales in the U.S. grew 13.4% to the five-year high of 14.5 million vehicles in 2012 including a 9% rise to 1.4 million in December last year. A host of macroeconomic factors helped the industry reach the height. They include improving consumer confidence, falling unemployment and improvement in home sales and prices.

Sales were also fueled by strong pent-up demand, due to both aging vehicles (average age of a car reached 11 years in the U.S.) and the need to replace damaged vehicles from Hurricane Sandy. Banks were also friendlier as they offered greater access to loans with lower interest rates.

Ford’s sales edged up 4.7% to 2.3 million vehicles in 2012, including a 1.9% gain in December to 214,222 vehicles, as sales of some of its highest selling vehicles, Ford Escape SUV (2.6% gain) and Fusion sedan (2.7% decline), were hurt by vehicle safety recalls. However, the company’s market share reduced to 15.5% in 2012 from 16.8% in 2011.

The automaker expects to meet challenges in the U.S. and Europe by executing its “One Ford” plan. The company aims to revive sales by rolling out new models with best in quality, fuel efficiency, safety and design. It plans to launch as many as 6 new Lincoln models in the next 3 years, including a small car in 2014. It also plans to roll out as many as 20 new models in Europe over the next three years.

The stock currently retains a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold), which supports long-term recommendation of Neutral on the stock.

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