Autos

Should Investors Sell GM Into Its Buybacks?

General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) has seen its share of ups and downs. Despite having recently hit 52-week highs, GM has not fully recovered to post-IPO highs from before the company’s ignition switch recall waves hit the company. Two reputable Wall Street firms have recently told their clients and investors to sell shares of GM into the company’s recently announced larger capital return plan.

24/7 Wall St. wanted to look at both sides of the coin here. Not everyone says to sell GM shares. The consensus analyst price target is higher than the current share price, and some analyst targets are far higher. Still, some of the concerns have to at least be considered.

On Tuesday, March 24, Credit Suisse maintained its Underperform rating. The firm also maintained a $33 price target, more than $5 lower than the current share price.

Credit Suisse’s Dan Galves said they might have raised estimates, but his report indicated that GM’s production is underperforming its sales growth, after doing a deep-dive into its segment trends. The call indicated that GM simply does not have enough capacity in the segments that are doing well, like large pickups and sport utility vehicles (SUVs), which would offset poorly performing car segments. It also showed that GM’s production rate in the past six months is 1.7% below 2014 levels, at a time when the consensus estimates are modeling 2% to 3% growth in 2015.

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After the problems have come up, Galves fears that the mix could be about $500 million in year-on-year benefit. GM’s cost headwinds and flat-to-down pricing might lead to only modest EBIT growth for North America. Other fears are that the GM truck inventory looks too tight, and that GM is increasingly reliant on trucks. Credit Suisse’s new estimates incorporate $5 billion in buybacks and assume a 2016 tax rate in the mid-20% range, as well as 2015 earnings per share (EPS) raised to $4.31 from $4.25 and for 2016 raised to $4.62 from $4.10.

The good news about the Credit Suisse call is that the earnings multiple would generate a current price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 8.8. At the firm’s $33 price target, GM’s implied earnings multiple would be 7.6.

The other very negative analyst call that was seen recently was last week’s Morgan Stanley call. GM was resumed with an Underweight rating, and the price target set was all the way down at $28. General Motors shares had closed at $38.58 prior to the Morgan Stanley call.

Adam Jonas was the analyst issuing the Underweight rating at Morgan Stanley. He said that GM’s plans to return more capital to shareholders may actually work against GM’s long-term prospects. Jonas’ note signaled that GM’s accelerated capital returns is very popular from a short-term perspective, but this raises longer-term questions as it raises financial and strategic risks.

The Morgan Stanley note suggested that by bowing to activist pressures, GM (and other automakers) could face additional risks at a time when there are significant cyclical and secular trends. Jonas thinks every billion dollars could matter ahead, and holding too much cash is not a risk that the company should be worried about.

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Recent calls from some other analyst calls have been far less dire, as follows:

  • On March 17, Argus reiterated its Buy rating and raised its price target to $45 from $43. That call said: “We believe that GM remains favorably valued relative to peers at 8.3-times our 2015 EPS estimate and 7.5-times our 2016 estimate. The stock also appears attractive based on other standard valuation metrics, including price/book, price/sales, and price/cash flow.”
  • Standard & Poor’s reaffirmed GM’s BBB- credit rating on March 9. S&P’s outlook remained Stable, so the reality is that it was not enough to move the needle. S&P said: “In our view, the higher level of share repurchases (compared with our previous expectations) and the associated net debt leverage increase leaves the company with a more limited, but still sufficient, cushion in the event of a modest downturn in the automotive industry.”
  • RBC Capital Markets maintained its Sector Perform rating but raised its price target to $41 from $39 on March 10.
  • Also on March 10, Citigroup maintained its Buy rating and raised its price target to $50 on GM back.

GM shares were trading down 1.5% at $38 in Tuesday’s midday trading. The consensus analyst price target is $41.53, and the 52-week trading range is $28.82 to $38.99. GM’s market cap is roughly $61 billion. The yield of GM’s soon-to-be raised dividend is nearly 3.8%, based on the current share price.

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