The motorcycle business hasn't exactly been booming for Harley-Davidson (NYSE:HOG) over the past decade, and the COVID-19 pandemic isn't going to help. The company has been trying to invest in turning around its business and growing revenue again, and now consumer discretionary spending on things like motorcycles may drop like a rock.
Not only is consumer spending a problem, but the market may also simply be moving away from Harley-Davidson's products long-term. That may make it an unattractive stock to buy today.
Harley-Davidson's problems didn't begin with COVID-19
In 2019, Harley-Davidson's motorcycle volumes fell 4.3% to 218,273, the continuation of a half-decade of declines for the business. You can see that in the past five years, revenue is down 10.6% and net income has plunged 46.7%. So, the company wasn't exactly on solid footing going into the year.
Overall, U.S. motorcycle volume was down 3.6% overall in 2019, so there's been some market decline. But Harley-Davidson hasn't been able to overcome that market trend or entice buyers with its new products. And the latter problem is what should be concerning for investors long-term.
New buyers aren't interested in the Harley-Davidson brand
To attract new, young buyers, Harley-Davidson has revamped its lineup to be more accessible to a larger market. But you can see above that the strategy hasn't exactly worked.
The biggest shift at Harley-Davidson was the introduction of the electric motorcycle LiveWire. But a $30,000 price tag and just 95 miles of highway range have been hurdles that buyers are unwilling to climb. And with competitors like Zero Motorcycles and Lightning Motorcycles introducing motorcycles with more range and lower price points, it's no wonder LiveWire has flopped.
There's no easy answer for Harley-Davidson trying to reach new customers. Big, loud motorcycles just aren't popular with the new generation of consumers and the company has not been able to pivot away from its core products very easily.
The other problem for Harley-Davidson
As revenue and profits have fallen, Harley-Davidson has actually been taking on more debt. That's made the company more financially vulnerable if there's a big downturn in the motorcycle market, which we should expect to see in 2020 given the COVID-19 pandemic.
I wouldn't see the company's dividend as very safe, either. If Harley-Davidson has to start saving cash, the first thing to go might be the company's current dividend payment that yields 8.6%, which is cash that can be used to simply keep the company afloat this year.
Is Harley-Davidson stock a buy?
The trends aren't good for Harley-Davidson, with revenue and net income declining and new products falling flat. With COVID-19 likely to leave the U.S. and Europe in a deep recession in the middle of the company's biggest selling season, 2020 doesn't look good. Until investors see signs of recovery in motorcycle demand and revenue starts to grow consistently, this isn't a stock I would be buying.