Why Morgan Stanley Sees Almost 25% More Upside in GM

After years of growth, it appears that 2016 might have been the “peak auto” year. Investors have not exactly seen any great returns by investing the car makers in 2016, and shares of General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) were last seen down more than 5% so far since the beginning of the year — and that even includes its dividend gains.

Now an analyst from Morgan Stanley has upgraded General Motors shares to Overweight from Equal Weight. The firm also raised its price target to $37 from $29 in the call. What stands out is that GM’s international operations, particularly in China, may be the driving force to help it get around any peak auto theme that investors have worried about inside of the United States.

Morgan Stanley now sees GM benefiting from the long development cycle for the technology behind self-driving cars. Its efforts of selling traditional cars and trucks are expected to win.

Monday’s report pointed out very strong results from GM’s second quarter. It noted that stable earnings through 2018 actually would demonstrate a material inflection point showing that GM can still make gains in free cash flow and in the GM share price.

Another driving force is the potential profits out of GM’s joint venture in China. The firm sees a more constructive view of China’s car market from volume and growth, as well as from its segment mix.

General Motors shares were last seen trading up 3.2% at $31.96 after Monday’s upgrade from Morgan Stanley. GM has a consensus analyst price target of $36.47 and a 52-week range of $26.69 to $36.88.

GM’s market cap is also just a few million dollars shy of $50 billion at the current share price. Its prior closing price of $30.97 and the $37.00 price target generates an implied upside of 19.5%, and the 4.9% dividend would make for a combined total return of almost 25% — if Morgan Stanley’s upside thesis proves right.

In any upside scenario, investors also have to consider the dividends received in their total return projections.

While many U.S. investors have been concerned about potential growth, the reality is that GM’s valuation at the previous closing price of $30.97 is only 5.3 times expected 2016 earnings per share. Those earnings per share figures are expected to be more or less flat in 2017 and 2018.