Washington: Ford on Friday posted a net income of USD 20.2 billion in 2011, the third consecutive year of the company's increased operating profits.

The company's 2011 net income, equal to USD 4.94 per share, was an improvement of USD 13.7 billion over its 2010 full year profits, a news agency reported.

Ford executives praised the results as an encouraging sign for future profitability, as the American auto industry continues to recover from the 2008 financial crisis.

"2011 marked a milestone year in our work to strengthen our balance sheet," said Lewis Booth, Ford executive vice president and chief financial officer.

"We increased automotive cash, reduced debt and improved liquidity, clearing the way for us to resume paying a quarterly dividend."

Ford said by the end of 2011 it reduced its debt from USD 19 billion to USD 13.1 billion, and that due to 2011 financial success, it will make profit sharing payments to over 40,000 US hourly employees, with an estimated payment of USD 6,200 per eligible employee.

However, Ford's 2011 profitability was also heavily affected by a favourable one-time, non-cash special item of USD 12.4 billion in deferred tax assets in the fourth quarter.

Its fourth quarter pre-tax operating profit was only USD 1.1 billion, a decrease of USD 189 million from the same period in 2010.

Wall Street appeared dismayed at the results, Ford stocks falling 4 percent in the first hours of trading.

As for the 2012 outlook, Ford said that it predicted US full year industry volume to be in the range of 13.5 million to 14.5 million vehicles.

Many analysts were pleased with the American auto industry's performance as a whole in 2011, with US sales of almost 13 million vehicles and positive signs in the still recovering manufacturing sector.