General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) and Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) may face their worst year in a decade as coronavirus spreads around the world. While the U.S. market may be difficult for them, it is China that could erode their numbers at a frightful level.
GM stock is down 23% this year. Ford’s stock has plunged 31% to a five-year low. In early 2018, it was above $13 a share.
U.S. sales of cars and light trucks were above 17 million a year beginning in 2015. The level is a recovery from the 10 million sold in 2010 at the depth of the recession. No one thinks sales will test that level in 2020. A serious spread of the disease could keep many people out of dealerships for a few weeks or longer. It is imaginable that 2020 industry sales in the United States could drop under 16 million. Given that the industry manufacturing capacity in the United States is to build more cars than that, the expense base of the two companies could be such that GM and Ford experience severe erosion of U.S. margins.
China’s market has been the holy grail for car companies since it overtook the U.S. market in 2009. It peaked in 2017 at 24.7 million but dropped to 21.4 million last year. Based on the drop-off in February, the number is likely to fall below 20 million in 2020. If the spread of coronavirus does not start up again. The 20 million is at the high end of estimates.
Virtually no one believes auto sales in China will decline at the rate of 80% that they did in February. Yet, even as they recover, GM and Ford are already in deep trouble. Ford’s sales dropped 26.1% last year to 567,854. The figure includes joint venture partners.