Since the Great Recession, we’ve seen new auto sales rebound due in part to the attractive if not aggressive low to no interest financing. That’s helped mask the rising cost of buying a new car as original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) ranging from Ford and General Motors to Volkswagen and Honda have packed connective technology and features associated with our Digital Lifestyle investing theme their vehicles.
Over the last few quarters, the Federal Reserve has hiked interest rates and is poised to do some four more times in the coming 15 months according to its most recent economic forecast. At the margin, that will boost the cost of buying a new car or truck, and likely increase the demand for used cars for consumers that are seeing their discretionary dollars shrink as those same interest rates drive their existing debt servicing costs higher. Good news for companies like Carmax that can cater to Middle-class Squeeze consumers, not so good for the auto manufacturers.
Demand for used cars was unusually strong this summer and will remain at elevated levels through the year’s end as higher interest rates and rising prices on new cars continue to stretch buyers’ wallets, industry analysts said.
Used-car buyers are finding a growing selection of low-mileage vehicles that are only a few years old.
While used-car values have also increased in recent years, the gap between the price of a new and preowned car has also widened and is now at one of its largest points in more than a decade, according to car-shopping website Edmunds.com.
New-car prices have steadily climbed in the years following the recession as companies packed vehicles with more expensive technology and buyers shifted away from lower-priced cars to bigger and more expensive sport-utility vehicles and trucks. The average price paid for a car hit an all-time high of $36,848 in December of 2017 and remains at near-record levels, according to Edmunds.com.
With nearly 40 million in sales last year, the used-car market is more than double the size of the new-car business.
The shift in demand is a troubling sign for auto makers, which will be under pressure to deepen discounts to keep customers from defecting to the used-car market. New-vehicle sales have started to cool this year following a seven-year growth streak.
As new car prices have climbed, auto lenders have kept monthly payments low by extending loan-repayment terms to five and six years and introducing 0% financing on loans that made buying new a more attractive deal.
But as interest rates rise and credit tightens, auto companies are pulling back on such sales incentives. The average monthly payment on a new car was $536 in August, up from $507 last year and $463 five years ago, according to Edmunds.com.
A few months ago in episode 59 of the Cocktail Investing podcast, we discussed the looming cybersecurity threats to be had in the corporate supply chain. After that conversation, we figured it was only a matter of time until a high profile supply chain attack occurred. It was only a matter of months until the vulnerabilities for several automotive companies and their suppliers were exposed. How they address it means more spending associated with our Safety & Security investing theme.
To check out our latest Cocktail Investing podcast, click here.
Security researcher UpGuard Cyber Risk disclosed Friday that sensitive documents from more than 100 manufacturing companies, including GM, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, Tesla, Toyota, ThyssenKrupp, and VW were exposed on a publicly accessible server belonging to Level One Robotics.
The exposure via Level One Robotics, which provides industrial automation services, came through rsync, a common file transfer protocol that’s used to backup large data sets, according to UpGuard Cyber Risk. The data breach was first reported by the New York Times.
According to the security researchers, restrictions weren’t placed on the rsync server. This means that any rsync client that connected to the rsync port had access to download this data. UpGuard Cyber Risk published its account of how it discovered the data breach to show how a company within a supply chain can affect large companies with seemingly tight security protocols.
This means if someone knew where to look they could access trade secrets closely protected by automakers.
We as a people have been carrying many things in our pockets when we leave the house – first keys and wallet then keys, wallet and phone. As part of our Cashless Consumption investment theme we have seen mobile wallets begin to proliferate as well as apps like Apple Pay and PayPal that likely mean at some point we won’t have to carry our physical wallets – if only someone can figure out a digital driver’s license.
Before too long it seems we may be able to ditch the car keys as well, which will naturally be incorporated into our smartphones. We’ve already seen smartphone apps that unlock and lock doors as well as garage doors, which to us means car doors are inevitable. Of course, as this happens it also means another avenue of potential theft that will be a part of our Safety & Security investing theme.
The Car Connectivity Consortium, which counts Apple among its charter members, on Wednesday announced the publication of new “digital key” standard that allows drivers to actuate vehicle systems like door locks and the engine via an NFC-enabled smartphone.
With its technology, aptly dubbed the Digital Key Release 1.0 specification, the CCC aims to bringautomotive manufacturers and mobile device makers together to create an interoperable digital key standard.
The system operates in much the same way as first-party digital keys currently available from a handful of vehicle OEMs. Users with authenticated smart devices are able to lock, unlock, start the engine of and share access to a specific car. Unlike some remote control solutions that leverage Wi-Fi or Bluetooth communications, however, Release 1.0 appears intrinsically tied to short-range technology like NFC.
Relying on existing Trusted Service Manager (TSM) infrastructure, Release 1.0 allows carmakers to securely transfer digital key information to a smart device like a smartphone, perfect for car-sharing or fleet deployments. Specialized hardware like near-field communications chips and internal secure elements provide a high level of user protection.
According to a white paper outlining the technology’s architecture, Release 1.0 looks to create standardized interfaces between a car, a smart device’s NFC and Bluetooth Low Energy stack, secure element, first-party app, TSM, OEM backend and SE provider. OEMs are responsible for proprietary interfaces between their respective backends and the car.
As noted by the group, which focuses on developing mobile device-to-vehicle connectivity solutions, a number of carmakers already field proprietary digital key solutions, though the market is fragmented. A single unifying standard would not only enhance the customer experience, but provide manufacturers access to the latest security protocols and technological advancements, the CCC argues.
CCC charter member Audi is already using digital key technology in its vehicles, while Volkswagen, another charter member, said it plans to integrate the technology soon. Alongside Audi and Volkswagen, Apple, BMW, General Motors, Hyundai, LG Electronics, Panasonic and Samsung are listed charter members of the organization, while core members include ALPS, Continental Automotive, DENSO, Gemalto, NXP and Qualcomm.
The CCC says it is already working on a Digital Key Release 2.0 that should be completed by the first quarter of 2019. The second-generation technology will provide a standardized authentication protocol between the vehicle and a paired smart device, and will be fully with interoperability between difference smartphones and cars.
The tallies for the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey are rolling in, and in the coming days, we expect to see those figures refined even further. Retail and restaurants will clearly feel the pain, but so too will automotive dealerships in and around Houston, the fourth largest city in the U.S. This is likely to have a negative impact on August auto & truck sales. However, with estimates calling for “several hundred thousand vehicles” ruined as a result of the hurricane, the industry could see a boost in the coming months as replacement demand picks up. This would be welcomed by an industry that is seeing declining sales, rising inventories and aggressive use of incentives. The problem is this would likely be a temporary surge, and it also assumes the potential buyers of those cars can afford them.
Hurricane Harvey and its catastrophic aftermath likely destroyed more vehicles than any other natural disaster in U.S. history, according to several early reports.
The calamity likely ruined several hundred thousand vehicles along the Texas Gulf Coast, including more than 1 in 7 cars in the Houston area alone, according to Evercore ISI analysts.U.S. auto sales suffered a temporary setback in late August as flood waters shut down hundreds of Texas dealerships. But sales are likely to get a boost in the fall as Texans scramble for transportation and spend insurance checks to replace their cars, sport-utility vehicles and pickup trucks.
Harvey destroyed about 300,000 to 500,000 vehicles owned by individuals, Cox Automotive chief economist Jonathan Smoke estimated. Insurance is expected to cover a large portion of those losses.
While the mainstream financial media does its darndest to convince investors that the weak Q1 GDP was once again due to “seasonal” factors, the Cash-Strapped Consumer showed up again this morning as auto sales for April came in weaker than expected again, after a rough March.
With about 84 percent of the industry reporting at this point, the overall sales pace is tracking at 16.67mm SAAR versus expectations for 17.10mm. Here is the breakout by company:
- Ford (F) down 7.2 percent yoy
- Toyota (TM) down 4.4 percent yoy
- General Motors (GM) down 5.8 percent yoy
- Fiat-Chrysler (FCUA) down 6.6 percent yoy
- Nissan (NSANY) down 1.5 percent yoy
- Mercedes (DDAIY) down 7.9 percent yoy
- Mazda (MZDAF) down 7.8 percent yoy
- Honda (HMC) down 7.0 percent yoy
- Volvo (VOLVF) up 15.4 percent yoy
- Volkswagen (VW) up 1.6 percent yoy
With only two companies reporting better sales on a year-over-year basis, April was another rough month. We did see one slightly bright spot out of Ford (F) where overall sales of trucks were up 7.4 percent year-to-date over last year. These could be a barometer for the health of small businesses, which we’ve seen have been more optimistic of late on hopes for tax reform in their favor.
So far consumer income and overall spending have been disappointments, and now auto sales came in weaker than expected. That argument for “seasonal” weakness in Q1 isn’t looking too strong.
While higher interest rates might be a positive for financials, at the margin, however, it comes at a time when credit card debt levels are approaching 2007 levels according to a recent study from NerdWallet. The bump higher in interest rates also means adjustable rate mortgage costs are likely to tick higher as are auto loan costs, especially for subprime auto loans. Even before the rate increase, data published by S&P Global Ratings shows US subprime auto lenders are losing money on car loans at the highest rate since the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis as more borrowers fall behind on payments. If you’re thinking this means more problems for the Cash-strapped Consumer (one of our key investment themes), you are reading our minds.
In 4Q 2016, the rate of car loan delinquencies rose to its highest level since 4Q 2009, according to credit analysis firm TransUnion (TRU). The auto delinquency rate — or the rate of car buyers who were unable make loan payments on time — rose 13.4 percent year over year to 1.44 percent in 4Q 2016 per TransUnion’s latest Industry Insights Report. That compares to 1.59 percent during the last three months of 2009 when the domestic economy was still feeling the hurt from the recession and financial crisis. And then in January, we saw auto sales from General Motors (GM), Ford (F) and Fiat Chrysler (FCAU) fall despite leaning substantially on incentives.
Over the last six months, shares of General Motors, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler are up 8 percent, -2.4 percent, and more than 70 percent, respectively. A rebound in European car sales, as well as share gains, help explain the strong rise in FCAU shares, but the latest data shows European auto sales growth cooled in February. In the U.S., according to data from motorintelligence.com, while General Motor sales are up 0.3 percent for the first two months of 2017 versus 2016, Ford sales are down 2.5 percent, Chrysler sales are down 10.7 percent and Fiat sales are down 14.3 percent.
In fact, despite reduced pricing and increasingly generous incentives, car sales overall are down in the first two months of 2017 compared to the same time in 2016.
So what’s an investor in these auto shares to do, especially if you added GM or FCAU shares in early 2016? The prudent thing would be to take some profits and use the proceeds to invest in companies that are benefitting from multi-year thematic tailwinds such as Applied Materials (AMAT), Universal Display (OLED) and Dycom Industries (DY) that are a part of our Disruptive Technology and Connected Society investing themes.
Currently, GM shares are trading at 5.8x 2017 earnings, which are forecasted to fall to $6.02 per share from $6.12 per share in 2016. Here’s the thing, the shares peaked at 6.2x 2016 earnings and bottomed out at 4.6x 2016 earnings last year, which tells us there is likely more risk than reward to be had at current levels given the economic and consumer backdrop. Despite soft economic data that shows enthusiasm and optimism for the economy, the harder data, such as rising consumer debt levels paired with a lack of growth in real average weekly hourly earnings in February amid a slowing economy, suggests we are more likely to see GM’s earnings expectations deteriorate further. And yes, winter storm Stella likely did a number of auto sales in March.
Subscribers to Tematica Pro received a short call on GM shares on March 16, 2017
We’ve seen this before, and it tends not to end well. This time around it happening not so much in housing, but in auto loans and credit cards… and just like last time, it’s not likely to end well. What it does mean is there will be more Cash-Strapped Consumer that aren’t able to tap those credit cards to eek on by each month. It also probably means problems ahead for auto companies like Ford Motor, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler that are already using incentives to entice buyers.
According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, which cited the TransUnion data, missed payments on credit cards that credit card companies issued more recently are at a higher rate than older credit cards. What’s more, close to 3 percent of outstanding balances on credit cards that were issued last year are at least 90 days behind on payments six months after the purchases were charged. In 2014, the paper noted the rate was 2.2 percent for credit cards issued in 2014 and 1.5 percent for credit cards issued in 2013.
The increased miss payments on the credit cards that were issued in 2015 moved the 90-day-or-more delinquency rate for the entire credit card industry to 1.53 percent in the third quarter, which WSJ said is the highest level since 2012.
The big culprit for the missed payments? Lenders increased the amount of lending it did to subprime customers starting in 2014 and continued to do so more recently. Citing Equifax, WSJ pointed out that, in 2015, credit card companies issued slightly more than 20 million credit cards to subprime borrowers, up 20 percent from 2014 and up 56 percent from 2013.