I'm a few days late with this week's throwaway. I guess that's what happens when you spend a few days vacationing in the Outer Banks. However, I do think you could call it an inspirational getaway.
Driving through a summer hotbed like the coastal beaches of North Carolina, I noticed that there aren't as many cars on the road as there used to be. If the Griswolds were on their way to Wally World, they weren't doing so under my watch.
That nudged me toward this week's stock to heave into the dumpster, though as always, I'll be back with three replacements for the tossed stock.
Who gets thrown out this week? Come on down, General Motors (NYSE: GM ) .
Where was this column a few years ago? Am I too late in taking the distressed automaker to task? I don't think so. When a stock flies 17% higher on grim news -- as shares of GM did yesterday -- I suggest that there is still room to go in reverse.
Let's go over some of the moves that prompted the euphoric response:
- GM suspends its dividend.
- It slashes truck production.
- The company gears up to slash 20% of its white-collar workforce.
OK, so technically the news battered the stock earlier in the week. Yesterday's reaction was more of a dead-cat bounce -- the key words there being “dead cat.”
General Motors had an uninterrupted streak of paying out dividends for 86 years. Two world wars, the Great Depression, and the Chevy Nova didn't get in the way. If it's shifting gears in a move that will alienate its longtime yield-chasing shareholders, things have to be dire.
The gas crunch has clearly hurt GM and its mammoth SUV and truck lines. Remember when GM's Hummer was cool? Then it became a symbol of gluttony. Now it's just a brand that GM can't find a buyer for.
Who knows if other GM fringe brands, like Pontiac or Saturn or Saab, will bite the dust, or what the dented carmaker will have to do to pacify distressed dealers.
GM is in a bind, toiling in a sector that is out of favor, and its problems are compounded by the fact that it’s losing market share to overseas rivals like Honda (NYSE: HMC ) and Nissan (Nasdaq: NSANY ) . Even a swan-diving dollar, which should in theory make imports more expensive and the practice of exporting cars cheaper, isn't helping GM.
GM is now trying to make up for lost time in neglecting the small-car market and the consumer's appetite for more fuel-efficient drives. The plug-in Chevy Volt is a gutsy call, but that potential savior is still two years away. Is it too late to save iconic domestic automakers like GM and Ford (NYSE: F ) ?
Don't bet on an immediate turnaround, even if gas prices fall and the economy bounces back. Consumers have moved on. They're driving less. They're carpooling more. They're snapping up smaller foreign cars. This ultimately means that less-driven cars will be replaced more infrequently, even if GM should happen to bounce back with a hit.
You don't need a dividend suspension that was 86 years in the making to let you know that it's time to eighty-six GM.
As with every other week, I don't talk down a stock unless I have three alternatives that I believe will outperform the company getting the heave-ho. Let's go over the three fill-ins.
- Toyota (NYSE: TM ) : No one jumped on the hybrid bandwagon quite like Toyota. Its Prius has become synonymous with the green driving movement. Toyota isn't perfect. This is still a tough climate for all automakers. However, at least Toyota is consistently profitable, and shareholders can rest easy knowing that the 3.2% yield is secure.
- America's Car-Mart (Nasdaq: CRMT ) : A used-car dealer specializing in low-end cars sounds like just the ticket for the distressed auto market. America's Car-Mart is the niche's speedster, with earnings tripling this past quarter on a 29% spike in revenue. Could its thrifty approach be the result of hailing from Wal-Mart's home of Bentonville, Ark.? Either way, Bentonville should be bottling the ability to thrive in this difficult economy.
- Copart (Nasdaq: CPRT ) : As an auctioneer of wrecked cars for scrap salvage, Copart moves to a different beat than the rest of the automotive industry. Copart's numbers bear that out. After generating a profit of $0.52 a share in its latest quarter, Copart has exceeded analyst profit targets in three of the past four quarters.
Other headlines out of the recycle bin: