Why It's Time to Buy Ford and GM Stock (but Not Tesla?)

The automakers already have faced the so-called peak auto trends, and even with an aging fleet of cars on the road, there seems to be a secular pressure facing the auto industry in the years ahead. On top of electric vehicle demand, the ride-hailing industry and better forms of public transportation all act as a pressure mechanism against the automakers.

It might seem easy just to dismiss the industry in its entirety. That would be a mistake, at least according to Dan Levy and Robert Moon at Credit Suisse.

As see in Thursday’s top analyst upgrades, downgrades and initiations, the Credit Suisse team started coverage of the auto and the auto parts segments. While the parts segment also has some new Outperform ratings in them, it was more interesting to see how the team values the carmakers themselves. After all, these companies contribute hundreds of billions of dollars in combined revenues.

A key feature of the analysis is that the auto industry will face cyclical as well as secular challenges over the next few years. That may sound dire, but the analysts see the industry’s valuation and underlying fundamentals driving near-term opportunities in the face of margin pressures from cyclical headwinds and investment.

Credit Suisse started Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) with an Outperform rating and a $13 target price. The company was also called out as the “high conviction Outperform” rating in the entire group. Ford is said to face a number of risks in the coming years. It is redesigning its business to address profitability and also is pursuing a longer-term reimagining of its business. That said, Credit Suisse sees upside for Ford’s stock after improvements have been made, and more improvements are likely to come.

Credit Suisse’s $13 Ford target price is a 50/50 blend of sum-of-the-parts and price-to-earnings valuations, at $14 and $12, respectively. Ford shares were trading up 2.3% at $10.14 on Thursday, and the consensus target price from Refinitiv was $10.53 ahead of that call.

Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) was started as Underperform and assigned a $189 target price. This is its “high conviction underperform” rating that Elon Musk may not appreciate. While Tesla and Volkswagen have committed to electric vehicle proliferation, even with Tesla leading VW in areas that likely will define the future of auto manufacturing, Credit Suisse believes Tesla faces risks. The firm’s view is that Tesla likely will settle in as a niche automaker.

The Underperform rating did not negatively affect Tesla shares. The stock was up 0.8% at $221.10, in a 52-week range of $176.99 to $387.46.

General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) was started as Outperform with a $48 target price, with a similar to Ford 50/50 blend of sum-of-the-parts and price-to-earnings valuation. The firm’s upside is based on the health of earnings, as well as the long-term options.

Shares of GM traded up 0.8% at 38.42. The 52-week range is $30.56 to $41.50, and the consensus target price was $46.68.

Having secular problems might not mean all things are bad. After all, if cigarettes and coal still exist, then maybe carmakers can too.

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