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Ford Motor Co., the nation's second biggest automaker, said today its earnings fell 38.5 percent to $1.2 billion in the first quarter as automotive profits fell sharply. The results still beat Wall Street expectations, but Ford said it may have a loss before special items in the second quarter.

Earnings for the January-March period amounted to 60 cents a share, compared with net income of $1.95 billion, or 94 cents a share, in the first quarter of 2004.

Excluding special items, first-quarter earnings were $1.26 billion, or 62 cents a share, compared with $1.98 billion, or 96 cents a share, a year ago. Wall Street analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial had expected earnings of 39 cents per share in the latest period.

Although the picture was brighter at Ford than at General Motors Corp., which announced a $1.1 billion first-quarter loss Tuesday, Ford reduced its full-year earnings guidance earlier this month by a third to $1.25 to $1.50 per share.