24 June, 2008

Is anything worth owning in the Auto Industry?

In short, with today's high Oil prices and report after report from the big automakers cutting production, the answer's a resounding No! There's simply nothing compelling out there valuation wise in the Automotive space.

Ford (F)? Virtually slashing it's popular Truck line in half with delays and production cuts, and the only car worth talking about, besides police departments contracts, is the Mustang which now has been stagnant for almost half a decade.

General Motors (GM)? $40Billion in the hole and counting... Not to mention probably the ugliest set of cars in America goes to Chevrolet. Truly incredibly uninspiring automotive design.

Toyota (TM)? Actually the only compelling value out there with a P/E of 9. However, whispers of US sales expectation management are seeping through the proverbial cracks, which will put some serious pressure on upcoming earnings reports. The company has the clout of being the "leader" in the Hybrid segment going for it but could the Prius possibly look any worse, and if the respectable Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear is to be believed, in a race the Prius provided worse fuel economy than a BMW M3! (*Obviously the car was not run under normal conditions*)

Toyota at levels below $100 is one to put on the watch list, however times will continue to be rocky in the Automotive segment as a whole until Oil speculation subsides and consumers instill in themselves a renewed confidence to go driving again.

Of the companies traded in the US, the only one continuing to do reasonably well is Honda (HMC). Is it a big secret that it is up 4% Year to Date while others are off significantly? F (-20%) GM (-40%), DAI (-30%), TM (-10%).

Honda's secret sauce? Fuel efficient well engineered cars, that have very good engines, are impressively reliable and most importantly, don't make you loathe getting into them every single morning. It isn't hard to understand that successes like Accord and Civic, year after year show up on best lists and best seller lists. The Acura luxury line continues to produce winners as well, but a watchful eye on the headlines is a necessity in this sector.

With Toyota starting to whisper statements that US sales targets will be "tough to meet" it doesn't require multiple graduate degrees to surmise Honda may be in for some dry spells to come. While at this stage Honda is a Hold in this book, closer to $30/share is an attractive entry point for an innovative car company, that yet sees almost none of the corporate stumbling blocks faced by its US peers and has a big enough worldwide presence to funnel out good small cars all over Europe and Japan.

Disclosure: Author holds no position in the above mentioned companies.

Update: Thursday June 26, 2008. Statement to clarify Chevy as a division of GM

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