Ford was the last of the Big Three automakers to report 1996 results.

General Motors Corp. reported Tuesday that its earnings were down 58 percent for the quarter and 28 percent for the year, due largely to strike costs. Chrysler Corp. said last week that its fourth-quarter earnings fell 22 percent after several one-time charges, but that annual profits were the second best in its history.

Ford's profit from automotive operations for the year was $1.6 billion, down from $2 billion in 1995.

U.S. auto operations, which comprise about 65 percent of Ford's automotive revenues, earned $2 billion last year, up from $1.8 billion in 1995. For the quarter, U.S. operations earned $628 million, compared with $168 million in the October-December period of 1995.

``We've strengthened our truck lineup in the U.S. while the market continued to shift from cars to trucks,'' Ford Chairman Alex Trotman said.

Internationally, Ford stumbled last year, losing $352 million compared with a $213 million profit in 1995. Losses were greatest in the highly competitive European market and in South America.

Ford's European automotive operations lost $291 million in 1996 after earning $116 million in 1995. In South America, Ford lost $642 million last year, compared with a $94 million loss the prior year.

``Europe is tough for everyone,'' Trotman said. ``But we expect better results for 1997.''

In South America, Ford has been struggling since the dissolution of its Autolatina joint venture with Volkswagen AG in 1995.

``We have the right plans in Brazil and Argentina to restore our strength and profitability, although we know it will take some time as we introduce new products, build a new organization and restore our dealer body,'' Trotman said. ``The new products are generating sales momentum. Overall, we are on track.''

The 1996 results include a one-time charge of $436 million for early retirement programs.

Ford's Financial Services Group accounted for two-thirds of the fourth-quarter profit, with earnings of $814 million, compared with $644 million a year ago. For the full year, Financial Services earnings were a record $2.8 billion, up from $2.1 billion in the prior year.