Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Why Shares of Fiat Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors Got Clobbered in March

By John Rosevear - Apr 7, 2020 at 2:42PM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

Detroit has never before had a month quite like last month.

What happened

Shares of the three Detroit automakers fell sharply in March, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence. All were hit hard by the drastic effects of the coronavirus pandemic on their industry. 

  • Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCAU) was down 42.2%.
  • Ford Motor Company (F 2.13%) was down 30.6%.
  • General Motors (GM 1.34%) fell 31.9%.

So what

March was a month unique in the auto industry's long history. Never before have all three of the Detroit auto giants shut down all of their North American factories at the same time, as FCA, Ford, and GM (and others) did in mid-March as part of broad efforts to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. 

A prototype of the GE/Airon Model A-E ventilator that Ford is preparing to manufacture.

Ford has teamed up with General Electric to manufacture this hospital ventilator; it plans to ship 50,000 of the machines by early July. Image source: Ford Motor Company.

Because automakers record revenue when vehicles are shipped to dealers, the decision to suspend production also meant abruptly suspending a large portion of their revenue -- meaning all three companies had to move immediately into cash-preservation mode. 

While all three companies have hefty cash reserves, auto investors didn't like the implications. 

F Chart

F data by YCharts.

Fiat Chrysler was already dealing with the coronavirus' effects on its business when March began -- in Italy, where the outbreak has been severe. Northern Italy, where FCA has several factories, has been hit especially hard, and the company was forced to halt production there (and shortly thereafter, throughout Europe) early in the month. 

Ford also halted its production in Europe early in March as supply lines started to falter, and then in several other factories around the world as well. To conserve cash, Ford suspended its dividend, drew down its credit lines, and cut salaries (but not jobs). The moves cost Ford its hard-won investment-grade credit rating for the time being, but the increased liquidity should help Ford keep its future-product programs going through the shutdown period. 

GM CEO Mary Barra wears a mask and safety goggles.

GM CEO Mary Barra, shown at GM's improvised mask factory in Warren, Michigan, last week. Image source: General Motors.

GM's month unfolded much like Ford's, with factory shutdowns and moves to conserve cash. But there were two significant differences. First, unlike Ford, GM hasn't (yet) suspended its dividend. Second, GM has maintained its investment-grade credit rating, though Moody's and Standard & Poor's both said in late March that GM's rating is under review. 

Now what

With factories and many dealers shut down, April is expected to be a very tough month for the automakers. The good news is that we won't have to wait long to get detailed updates from the three CEOs and their teams. FCA and GM will report their first-quarter earnings results before the market opens on May 5; Ford will report a bit earlier, after the market closes on April 28. 

John Rosevear owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Invest Smarter with The Motley Fool

Join Over 1 Million Premium Members Receiving…

  • New Stock Picks Each Month
  • Detailed Analysis of Companies
  • Model Portfolios
  • Live Streaming During Market Hours
  • And Much More
Get Started Now

Stocks Mentioned

Ford Motor Company Stock Quote
Ford Motor Company
$15.83 (2.13%) $0.33
General Motors Company Stock Quote
General Motors Company
$38.46 (1.34%) $0.51
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. Stock Quote
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V.

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

Related Articles

Motley Fool Returns

Motley Fool Stock Advisor

Market-beating stocks from our award-winning analyst team.

Stock Advisor Returns
S&P 500 Returns

Calculated by average return of all stock recommendations since inception of the Stock Advisor service in February of 2002. Returns as of 08/12/2022.

Discounted offers are only available to new members. Stock Advisor list price is $199 per year.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.