Earnings reports released by four major companies yesterday showed depressed profitability for their most recent reporting periods, with Ford Motor Co. posting a 1981 loss of more than $1 billion, Safeway Stores Inc. and Polaroid Corp. reporting smaller profits last year than in 1980, and International Harvester Co. reporting a record quarterly loss.

But B.F. Goodrich Co. profits increased sharply.

Ford, the nation's second-largest automaker, said that it lost $1.06 billion last year--$346 million of that in the fourth quarter.

The report was in line with the 1981 loss Ford had predicted during recent contract-concession talks with the United Auto Workers union. The UAW's Ford Council has voted to recommend ratification of a tentative new contract with Ford that includes concessions in exchange for job-security provisions.

The loss in 1981 compared with a loss of $1.5 billion in 1980.

Worldwide sales of Ford products were $38.2 billion in 1981, up 3 percent from 1980. Ford lost $1.2 billion in its U.S. operations, but brought in a $387 million profit outside the United States and Canada.

Unit sales were down 2 percent in the United States and 7 percent in Canada last year but were up 2 percent elsewhere.

"The 1981 results were unsatisfactory, reflecting low unit volume," Ford Chairman Philip Caldwell and President Donald Petersen said. "In the United States, the automotive recession, which began in mid-1979, continued throughout 1981. . . Ford's U.S. car market share in 1981 was 16.6 percent compared with 17.3 percent in 1980."

But, they added: "The improved results reflected substantial reductions in fixed costs, improvements in operating efficiencies, and an increase in Ford's share of the worldwide car market."

The company officials blamed currency translations for a loss of $576 million in 1981. Adverse currency translations subtracted $22 million the year before.

The automaker's $346 million fourth-quarter deficit was greater than the $316 million loss reported a year ago.

"The loss was not unexpected," said Mary Ann Keller, an analyst at the securities firm of Paine Webber, Mitchell Hutchins & Co. in New York. Poor vehicle sales in North America have been continuing for about three years now, but lower sales also were noted overseas, Keller said.

"Europe has been suffering, too," with an economic downturn, she said. "And the markets have been lower in Brazil and some European countries."

She said Ford rebates and other costly promotions also cut into profits.

Safeway Stores Inc., the nation's largest supermarket chain and a leading food processor, said yesterday that its profits rose 14 percent in its fourth quarter ended Jan. 16 but fell 4 percent over the full year.

Safeway Chairman Peter Magowan said that the decline was due mainly to an East Coast price war and Safeway's "aggressive" efforts to improve its sales position in major markets. Safeway's stores are mainly located west of the Mississippi River, but it also has stores in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Safeway also announced plans to close by March 27 its Omaha division, which operates 70 stores in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, because of continuing losses there.

"Labor costs are definitely a factor and a large portion of our competitors there are not unionized," said Safeway spokeswoman Felicia delCampo. Low population growth projections also added to the decision, she said.

Safeway, which has 1,960 stores in 29 states, said it earned $47.6 million ($1.82 a share) in the 16 weeks ended Jan. 2 compared with $41.9 million ($1.60) a year earlier. Sales rose to $5.27 billion from $5 billion. Safeway noted there were 17 weeks in the year-earlier period.

For the year, however, earnings fell to $114.6 million ($4.39) from $119.4 million ($4.57) a year earlier. Sales rose 10 percent to $16.6 billion from $15.1 billion. There were 52 weeks in the latest year versus 53 weeks in the previous reporting year.

International Harvester Co. announced a fiscal first-quarter net loss of $299.4 million--the worst ever--at its annual stockholders meeting yesterday, but Chairman Archie R. McCardell predicted a return to profitability in the second half of fiscal 1982.

Following the announcement of the latest results, 590 stockholders gave final approval to the firm's $4.3 billion debt restructuring plan and re-elected the company's 13-member board of directors. Approval for the restructuring plan was granted when stockholders adopted amendments to the firm's certificate of incorporation.

The continuing red ink comes on top of $1.1 billion in losses posted during the last two fiscal years. The farm implement maker also recently completed a massive $4.1 billion debt restructuring.

The first-quarter net loss compares with a $96.4 million net loss in the year-ago period. IH's loss from continuing operations for the latest quarter totaled $296.7 million versus $104.6 million a year earlier.

Sales in the latest quarter fell 33 percent to $1.04 billion from $1.55 billion a year earlier. Leading the decline was the company's agricultural equipment division, which had sales of $373.3 million, down 47 percent from the same period a year earlier.

McCardell blamed the losses on lower sales and high interest rates.

Polaroid Corp.'s earnings plunged 95 percent in the final three months of 1981, in part because of the $30.4 million it set aside to cover the cost of reducing its work force by 11 percent, or 2,000 workers.

Polaroid said other factors contributing to the decline were a slump in worldwide sales of photo products and the cost of introducing its new Polaroid Sun Cameras and phasing out older products.

Fourth-quarter earnings were $1.7 million (6 cents a share) on revenue of $445.3 million compared with earnings of $32.3 million (98 cents) on revenue of $460.6 million in the same 1980 period.

Profits for all of 1981 fell 64 percent to $31.1 million (95 cents) from $85.4 million ($2.60) in 1980. Sales of the instant camera giant were also down, slipping from $1.45 billion in 1980 to $1.42 billion in 1981.

Polaroid President William J. McCune Jr. said international sales declined 9 percent last year, partially due to the worldwide economic decline and the weakening of foreign currencies against the dollar. He said U.S. sales were up a modest 3 percent, including an increase in the company's share of the instant camera market.

Polaroid's technical and industrial photographic business continued to increase in dollar volume, he said.

B.F. Goodrich Co. profits climbed sharply in the fourth quarter and all of 1981. The tire producer said yesterday that it earned $32.4 million ($1.61 a share) in the quarter, up 42 percent over last year's quarter, largely due to divestments and tax credits. Sales were $753.5 million, down from $779.8 million in the 1980 final quarter.

For the year, Goodrich earned $109.5 million ($5.55) on sales of $3.2 billion compared with 1980 earnings of $61.7 million ($3.57) on sales of $3.1 billion in 1980.