General Motors disclosures should remind investors that GM has an interesting SOTP angle. While the 10K dropped language related to timing of Cruise Commercialization (we still expect this w/in the next 12-months), the company is clearly preparing for bigger things. Cruise employees and management are receiving Stock Options and RSUs that vest upon an IPO. On the negative side, GM also continues to disclose potential residual risks related to the bankruptcy of old GM (Plaintiffs want 30 MM additional shares for the GUC trust; GM will fight this at a March 11 hearing); The Takata recall could cost $1.2 bn (though GM is still seeking to avoid a recall).
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Visteon reported 4Q18 Adjusted EBITDA of $74mln (10.0% margin) compared to WRe of $66mln (9.2% margin) as $20mln higher-than-expected revenue, plus cost efficiencies, converted well to the bottom-line. 2019 guidance was affirmed at $2,900-$3,000 revenue (approx. flat organic growth) and EBITDA margin of 10% (compared to FY2018 11.0% mid-10’s over last 3 quarters). Mgmt noted fairly significant revenue declines in the first half (tough comps and minimal launch activity) with a back-half of accelerating launch activity, much easier comps, and some customer-specific improvement (VC customer production down mid-singles in 1H and slightly growing in 2H).
We expect the US Dept of Commerce to release a report this weekend asserting that automotive-related imports are a national security threat, thus authorizing the Executive branch to enact tariffs without Congressional approval under the Section 232 statute. We think actual tariff enaction is unlikely given widespread opposition from U.S. constituencies (Auto Dealers are politically powerful; even the UAW has not offered its endorsement). Nevertheless, general uncertainty during the 90-day post-report evaluation period could have stock implications: Slightly negative for U.S. Suppliers, negative for U.S. Dealers and Aftermarket Retailers, negative for non-U.S. OEMs, and neutral for U.S. OEMs.
There were numerous interesting takeaways from the Wolfe Research Auto Conference in Detroit, including revealing insights into recent shifts amongst U.S. New Vehicle Buyers (there may be less risk to industry mix than we perceived), the trajectory of battery costs, insights into Powertrain plans being made by Auto OEMs, and revelations on the Ride-Share business model. All of these have long term implications.
The Market is bracing for challenges as we transition to 2019, including lower Auto Production (particularly in China and Europe during 1H19), higher Rates (which raise concerns about Mix, Pricing), the strong U.S. Dollar, Regulatory Content, unpredictable Government Policy/Tariffs, the burden of increased Spending on Technology with uncertain returns, and in some cases discontinued passenger car products.
Most major U. S. OEMs and Suppliers will provide 2019 guidance in mid- to late-January… at our Detroit Auto Show Conference (Jan 15-16), or when they deliver Q4 earnings late January/early February. Management teams are pulling these forecasts together now. And they are doing so amid an unusually large number of market uncertainties (i.e. China, Europe, and NA production; company specific concerns for Ford (China, UK), JLR (China, UK), GM (discontinuing models), and local Chinese OEMs (declining at a double-digit rate in their domestic market). Based on our discussions with Industry Management teams we suspect that most will incorporate an extra dose of conservatism into their 2019 Guides. We are fine-tuning our estimates for Lear, Visteon, and Autoliv as we intend to take the same tack (e.g. today, we are fine-tuning our 2019 net new business backlog estimates, initially provided in early 2018, to reflect updated market and FX assumptions). See pages 3-6 for more details.
The current auto sales run rate in China, if sustained, would imply a 10% sales/production decline in 2019. Europe won’t be easy either, as production headwinds spill into 1H19. The U.S. has been relatively strong, but we remain concerned about affordability headwinds. Given these uncertainties, we question why OEM/Supplier margin expectations are up from 2nd half 2018 levels.
Once a quarter, we comb through corporate filings and summarize the most noteworthy datapoints. At a high level, developments during the quarter reinforced our view that investors should be Underweight Autos and Auto Parts, Underweight Dealers, and Overweight a relatively small selection of companies that fall into the Auto 2.0 category. In our view the U.S. Auto Cycle is in its 8th or 9th inning, with looming pressures on vehicle affordability. China is experiencing its first real Auto Industry downturn, and we are not convinced that the Central Government will step in to specifically prop up Autos. Europe also faces a number of challenges: These include potential trade risks (7% of Europe produced vehicles are exported to the U.S.), political risks (Brexit), and regulatory risks (vehicles more expensive to produce, at the same time that pricing has become more challenged).
Visteon reported 3Q18 adj. EPS of $1.12 before market open today, above WRe of $1.06 and slightly below cons. of $1.14. Adjusted EBITDA of $71mln was in-line. The path becomes more difficult, though, as the company cut FY2018 guidance for revenue by 5%, EBITDA by 8.5%, and FCF by 45%. Organic growth has taken a step-down to -9% in 2H18 (vs -5% in 1H18). Implied EBITDA margin in 4Q18 is 9.4%, down 380bp’s YOY. The stock traded down 1.7%, underperforming the auto sector by approx. 5 pts.
China’s Auto Industry has been on an impressive ascent due to the growing middle class for the past 10+ years. This market was sustained through the global financial crisis. And it has grown through more recent challenges (including a 40% China Equity Market Correction in 2015). But as we have discussed in several reports, there is once again major uncertainty about the outlook for this market. After rising 5% during the first 5-months of this year, the retail sales market has fallen by 3%, 6%, 7%, and 13% in June, July, August, and September. Yesterday the CPCA reported a 23% decline for the 3rd week of October, bringing the month to-date to -25%.
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