At The Motley Fool, we poke plenty of fun at Wall Street analysts and their endless cycle of upgrades, downgrades, and "initiating coverage at neutral." Today, we'll show you whether those bigwigs actually know what they're talking about. To help, we've enlisted Motley Fool CAPS to track the long-term performance of Wall Street's best and worst.
Have you invested in Ford... lately?
During the last two years since [Standpoint's Jan. 13, 2010] downgrade, Ford shares have underperformed the consumer discretionary [index] by ~ 4000 bps and underperformed the S&P-500 by > 2000 bps. We are reinstating the recommendation at this time, but it is risky and not recommended for those who are already significantly overweight in consumer discretionary and/or holding on to a high-beta portfolio.
(Gee whiz, guys. Don't sugarcoat it or anything.) And yet, despite posting the analytical equivalent of "Beware of Dog!" and "No Trespassing! This Means You!" signs all around its upgrade, Standpoint nonetheless sees opportunity in Ford shares today. Why?
We arrive at our $17 target for 2013-2014 by attaching an 8X-9X multiple to ~ $2.00 in EPS potential/expectations. [Ford is] moving in the right direction [on] international expansion and domestic sales.
Indeed, February's U.S. sales rose 14% for Ford. That wasn't quite as good as the 40% bump Chrysler got, but it exceeded the twin 12% sales spikes at Honda
Sure, automotive newcomer Tesla
Caveats... and a conundrum
That's not to say Standpoint's definitely right about Ford being a buy, however. Take the presumed $2 in earnings, for example. According to S&P Capital IQ, the consensus of analysts tracking this stock is that Ford will earn only $1.72 per share in 2013, and $1.90 in 2014. Standpoint's estimate for Ford earnings is, therefore, a bit more optimistic than most analysts are predicting.
It's also worth pointing out that even the profits Ford does earn may not be worth quite as much as they appear to be. Ford reported earning $20.2 billion over the past year, for example. But in fact, Ford's cash flow statement reveals that only $5.5 billion of this sum -- 27% of claimed "net income" -- came in the form of actual free cash flow.
Granted, $5.5 billion is still a nice chunk of change. It's several times the amount of free cash flow that GM generated during the same period -- and Toyota, Honda, Tesla? They're all net cash-burners these days.
Valued on its free cash, Ford is currently selling for a price-to-free cash flow ratio of just 8.8. If the company can manage to maintain the 12% growth rate we saw last quarter, this suggests the stock may be undervalued. If, on the other hand, Ford falls closer to the 4.6% consensus growth rate projected for it on Wall Street, even 8.8 times FCF may be too rich a price to pay.
My take: Ford may be the least-overpriced automotive stock today. That still doesn't make it a buy.
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