When the United States government bailed out the automotive industry in 2009, some politicians were opposed to his move, and the topic has come up again in the midst of recent campaigning. With the country slowly creeping out of the recession, automobile manufacturers are starting to see their sales rise again. February was a big month, as Ford saw a year-over-year sales increase of 14%, and Chrysler saw a gain of 40% over the same period. Here, I will look at four major auto manufacturers to see if they are good investments right now.
Ford Motor Company (F) is looking good these days, and even Penske Racing, previously one of Dodge's NASCAR favorites, is switching over to Ford. Sales across the board were up a total of 14% in February compared to the same month last year, and the share price has been rising right along with this increase in sales. I suspect that one reason for higher sales is the fact that fuel prices are reaching unprecedented highs these days. People are opting to exchange their older vehicles for more fuel-efficient models, to save themselves money down the road. With 23,350 vehicles sold in the shortest month of the year, this company has had its best February since 2000. The forecasted production for 2012's second quarter is up 3% from the previous year.
Not everyone is doing so well, though. General Motors Company (GM) has paused production of its Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid because sales are not high enough to meet the company's goals. The five-week halt is intended to keep inventory levels balanced, according to the company, but I think this lapse shows a certain unreliability in the company's predictions, like the people in charge are having trouble reading the market very well. That being said, Volt sales have actually tripled since February 2011, so the situation is not as bad as it might look, in my opinion. For investors, it just means that GM might not always meet its target, not because it is inadequate or failing to expand its market, but simply because it does not judge well where that target should realistically be set.
Meanwhile, GM is partnering with Europe's PSA Peugeot Citroen (PEUGY.PK) in order to cut costs and share resources. I see this is a very wise move on the part of GM, as long as they have gotten their numbers right this time. If so, the alliance will save both companies $2 billion a year within five years. I think investors should be paying attention and buying up GM shares now, before the stock's value jumps, which I expect it to do once people start catching on. The announcement came out today, so when the market opens tomorrow, I would not be surprised to see wise investors ready to put their money into GM.
Honda Motor (HMC) and Nissan (NSANY.PK) are another two stocks to pay attention to right around now. Although Nissan's EPS is down -148.81% this year, this situation is going to change very soon, in my opinion. In the face of both Honda and Nissan recalls, the latter looks to be reacting quite intelligently so as to balance out the negative effects this might have on the company's value. It is even considering bringing back the Datsun, which the company stopped manufacturing thirty years ago. The goal would be to target new markets that cannot afford the Nissan line, but might be interested in this classic sporty car as a first purchase. To me, this sounds like a good idea for expansion, and the fact that the company has not yet come to a final decision gives me confidence that the board of directors is weighing the pros and cons carefully.
Honda's 2012 Civic has been criticized as cheap and boring, so the company is taking a harsher stance against poor design. While this could increase costs, it will also increase sales, in my opinion, which will keep the company vitalized instead of letting it slowly drift into obscurity. Last year's dismal performance included a 7% loss in sales in the United States, and the earthquake in Japan did not help matters. The company has now hired on new engineering talent and I expect 2012 to treat Honda much better than the previous year. It looks to me like this car company has what it takes to bounce back from rough season.
All four of the above-mentioned major automotive stocks have been on a general upswing so far this year. In my opinion, Honda is currently facing the most challenges, especially with Hyundai's new Sonata battling Honda's Accord for executive car sales. However, I feel confident that the people in charge at Honda know how to handle this type of situation, and investors would do well to take advantage of the company's momentary loss of status.
It is at times like this that small risks should be taken, I think. Picking out the losing stocks from the winners can be a real challenge, but I definitely think Honda is going to bounce back. As for GM, Ford, and Nissan, these are hot stocks right now, in my opinion. Ford seems the most comfortable, judging by its focus on sports and other non-essential operations. To me, this indicates that the company has a secure financial position right now.
In terms of growth, these four stocks have bounced around a little, but in the past six months they have followed a pretty similar trend, with all four currently standing between 14 and 22% growth rates. Although they all dropped around December, anyone can see that they have been rising back up steadily and confidently since then.
Even the City of Chicago is buying Ford vehicles for its police fleet. If you were going to pick just one stock to invest in, I would recommend Ford, but spreading your money across the four in this article would be a smart move, in my opinion.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.