Earlier this week, I wrote about recent opinions I’ve seen that suggest that the stock market’s long, extended bullish run still has plenty of life left to keep going. One of the most compelling arguments supporting that opinion is the fact that, after the market’s big correction in the early part of this year, most of the market’s recovery has been led by beaten-down stocks in previously under-appreciated and oversold industries. That suggests the bullish momentum that has pushed the market higher since April when it found a corrective bottom is driven by an emphasis on value, which does offer some very compelling food for thought. Value-driven market rotation usually happens at the beginning of a bull market, not in the latter stages of one, so I think there could more than a little truth behind the notion.
Let’s go ahead assume for the time being that this idea is correct; it begs the next question, which is naturally, where am I going to find the best values in the market right now? It’s one thing to tell you to look for beaten-down stocks in depressed industries; it’s quite another to actually recognize what some of those areas of the market are right now.
As I previously mentioned, the auto industry is an area of the market that has really come under a lot of pressure. While the broad market has seen a nice rally since April of this year, the Big Three automakers have all seen significant drops in price. Fiat Chrysler Automotive (FCAU), Ford Motor Company (F) and General Motors Company (GM) are all down around 25% since reversing lower from their respective high points in April and June. Yes, a not-insignificant part of that drop has been driven by trade-related tensions with all four of America’s largest trading partners, and for as long as those tensions persist, there remains an element of risk that could keep pushing these stocks lower. Even so, the fact they are all down in bear market territory should at least have any sensible value-oriented investor sit up, take notice, and consider whether there is an opportunity worth thinking about.
What follows is a comparison of all of the Big Three U.S. automakers, side by side, to determine which of the three actually poses the best value-based argument right now. Does that mean that you should think about taking a position in the winner right now? That is for you to decide.
- Ford: Over the last twelve months, earnings decreased by almost 52% while sales were mostly flat, declining by only about 2%. The company operates with a narrow margin profile that saw Net Income at 4.2% of Revenues over the last twelve months, and decreased to only about 2.7% in the last quarter.
- GM: The twelve-month pattern for GM shows earnings decreasing only a little over 4%, and sales mostly flat, declining about .6%. GM’s margin profile over the last twelve months showed Net Income was a negative 3.2%, but improved in the last quarter to positive 6.5%.
- Fiat Chrysler: Earnings over the last twelve months declined 2.63% for FCAU versus sales growth of 12.62%. The company’s margin profile showed Net Income as 3.1% of Revenues in the last twelve months, and declining to 2.5% for the most recent quarter.
Winner: FCAU, on the basis of superior earnings and sales results in the last year versus F or GM.
Free Cash Flow
- Ford: F’s free cash flow is quite healthy, at more than $9.1 billion over the last twelve months. That translates to a Free Cash Flow Yield of 23.5%, which is extremely attractive.
- GM: GM has operated with negative Free Cash Flow since the last quarter of 2016, and as of the last quarter this number was a little more than -$12.3 billion dollars.
- Fiat Chrysler: FCAU’s Free Cash Flow over the last twelve months is healthy at a little more than $4.9 billion. That translates to a Free Cash Flow Yield of 13.8%
Winner: F, with the highest total dollar amount in Free Cash Flow over the twelve months along with the most attractive Free Cash Flow Yield.
Debt to Equity
- Ford: F has a debt/equity ratio of 2.8. High debt/equity ratios aren’t unusual for automotive stocks, however it should be noted that F’s debt/equity is the highest among the Big Three auto companies. The company’s balance sheet demonstrates their operating profits are sufficient to service their debt, with healthy liquidity to make up any potential difference if that changes.
- GM: GM’s debt/equity ratio is 1.81, which is also pretty high, but below that for F. The difference, however is that while GM’s operating profits should be adequate to service their debt, they may not have enough liquidity to make up any potential operating shortfall.
- Fiat Chrysler: FCAU’s debt/equity ratio is the lowest of the group, at .46. That alone puts them well ahead of the other two in this category; but it is also worth noting that the company’s cash and liquid assets are more than 34% higher than their long-term debt. That gives them the best actual financial base to operate from out of any of the Big Three.
Winner: FCAU. Not even close.
- Ford: F pays an annual dividend of $.60 per share, which translates to a very impressive yield of more than 6% per year.
- GM: GM’s dividend is $1.52 per year, translating to an annual yield of 4.51%
- Fiat Chrysler: FCAU does not pay a dividend.
Winner: F. Dividends are the low-hanging fruit that every value-oriented investor should look out for.
- Ford: F’s Price/Book value is $9.18 per share and translates to a Price/Book ratio of 1.07 at the stock’s current price. Their historical average Price/Book ratio is 2.12, which suggests the stock is trading right now at a discount of more than 97%. The stock is also trading about 60% below its historical Price/Cash Flow ratio.
- GM: GM’s Price/Book value is $27.38 and translates to a Price/Book ratio of 1.23 at the stock’s current price. Their historical average Price/Book ratio is 1.9, which suggests the stock is trading right now at a discount of 54%. The stock is also trading more than 129% below its historical Price/Cash Flow ratio.
- Fiat Chrysler: FCAU’s Price/Book value is $13.87 and translates to a Price/Book ratio of 1.29 at the stock’s current price. Their historical Price/Book ratio is 1.32, suggesting the stock is trading at a discount of 2.3%. The stock is also trading 55% above its historical average Price/Cash Flow ratio, suggesting the stock remains significantly overvalued, even at its current price.
Winner: F, edging out GM for best overall value proposition, but not by a wide margin.
The net winner? While FCAU has the best overall fundamental profile, it offers the least upside potential, with a significant level of downside risk. That puts F squarely in the winner’s circle for the best overall opportunity among the Big Three automakers under current market conditions. On the other hand, the greatest overall risk remains with GM, who despite the upside offered by its value measurements, has some big fundamental question marks that make the value proposition hard to justify.