Shares of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (NYSE:FCAU) made their New York Stock Exchange debut on Monday, opening at $9.00 a share and rising quickly in early trading before falling back.
FCA's debut on the NYSE was the last major milestone in the merger of Italy's Fiat and Detroit's Chrysler. Here are the things you need to know about this Italian-American automaker.
This isn't an IPO, it's a relocation
Fiat has been public for decades, its stock long a cornerstone of Italy's Milan exchange. Legally speaking, both Fiat and Chrysler have been absorbed into a new holding company that is incorporated in the Netherlands as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. -- but the reality is that Fiat bought Chrysler.
FCA's stock continues Fiat's old Milan listing, but as of Monday, FCA's primary listing is in New York. Why? Simply put, CEO Sergio Marchionne wants to make sure he's on Wall Street's radar. He wants Wall Street analysts comparing FCA to Ford (NYSE:F) and General Motors (NYSE:GM), in hopes that the attention will attract investors and help the company's stock price.
It's also useful for the combined company to be well understood on Wall Street for another reason: If and when it needs to raise money in the future, Wall Street's investment banks (and their clients) will know the company well and may be more likely to invest.
Long story short: Listing in New York should give FCA access to a bigger pool of investors. That's a good thing, because Marchionne's ambitious plans for FCA could require a cash infusion.
FCA is a work in progress
I've said for a while that both Ford and GM are "works in progress": Both have healthy and profitable North American operations, but both are working to turn around money-losing European operations, and both are placing big bets on expansion in China. But both Ford and GM have huge cash reserves and steady profits to work with. Both can be said to be more or less on track -- and well-situated should the economy turn south.
FCA is also a work in progress, but the work to be done is a lot more extensive: The company's ambitious five-year plan, unveiled in May, calls for it to increase sales by more than 50% by 2018 -- and to raise revenues from the 93 billion euros expected in 2014 to 132 billion in 2018.
How will it do that? According to the plan, with 30 new models, including a whole new line of Alfa Romeos intended to compete worldwide with the likes of BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The relaunch of Alfa, plus an ambitious plan to take the Jeep brand global in a big way, accounts for much of the hoped-for increase in sales volume.
The cost? A mere 48 billion euros. The problem: FCA doesn't have anything like 48 billion euros sitting in the bank. As of the end of the second quarter, FCA had "total available liquidity" of 21.8 billion euros -- and debt of 9.7 billion euros.
And it's not like FCA is a cash machine: The company managed an operating profit margin of just 4.1% last year, though that should improve soon. FCA is targeting a global margin of 6.6%-7.4% by 2018, driven by big gains in luxury (Alfa Romeo and Maserati, which have nowhere to go but up), the launch of Jeep in global markets (mainly China), and a slew of new, more profitable products for the Chrysler and Dodge brands in North America.
The upshot: Are you ready to bet on an ambitious, high-risk plan?
So will FCA hit all of its targets? Probably not: Marchionne has a history of setting extremely ambitious targets that don't quite get met -- both as a way to show the possibilities suggested by his strategies, and as a way to motivate employees.
But he also has a history of delivering more than investors expect -- look at how his 2009 plan for Chrysler has worked out -- and that track record is worth considering carefully here.
Still, I'd hold off on buying for a bit. At minimum, I would suggest waiting until after the company's third-quarter earnings report later this month. With Ford recently lowering its near-term guidance, and at least one key Wall Street analyst pushing GM to do the same amid signs of weakness in several key markets, a similar move by FCA could be in the cards. If so, that will likely hurt FCA's stock price -- which in turn might create an attractive buying opportunity. Stay tuned.
John Rosevear owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool recommends BMW, Ford, and General Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.