Shares of Hertz Global Holdings (NYSE:HTZ) have been driven off a cliff lately, falling from a high of over $31 back in August to barely over $21 recently. The bargain hunter in me -- and maybe you -- is often tempted by a possible deal when pessimism is at its peak. Let's try to figure out whether we should be buying Hertz now or wait for clarity about the company's future.
Hertz isn't the only one who's seen better days
Avis Budget Group (NASDAQ: CAR) stock also peaked back in August. It nearly hit $70 per share before skidding downward and now rests at about $58. During a presentation back in September, Avis CFO David Wyshner warned of soft used-car prices in North America that could hurt car-rental companies across the industry that depend on that revenue stream when they sell their old fleet. He also warned of an oversupply situation of rental vehicles over in Europe.
Maybe Wyshner was exhibiting the typical overly cautious tone of a CFO, because on Nov. 1, when Avis Budget announced its official third-quarter results, the numbers soared passed analyst earnings estimates. EPS came in at $1.91, compared with the $1.74 average estimate. CEO Ronald Nelson attributed the surprising gains to strong industry pricing in North America and record industry results in Europe. But what about Hertz?
"Maybe" is all we know
The bad news is Hertz still has not reported its official numbers for 2014, as it's undergoing an extensive audit to revise some numbers from prior years. To buy now would be to buy somewhat with a blindfold on. The flip side is that the market hates uncertainty and tends to price so accordingly, often overshooting to the downside.
If you have faith in the average analyst estimate for 2015 of $1.90 per share, then Hertz trades with a P/E of around 11 compared with similar-growth-rate Avis Budget's P/E of 16. You may take some comfort in knowing that Hertz's creditors extended its maturity dates while boosting its borrowing capacity by 26%. It's highly likely those creditors only did so after going over Hertz's nonpublic books with a fine-toothed comb.
Activist investor Carl Icahn is a believer in Hertz and now has three of his guys on the nine-member board of directors. Icahn, together with his affiliates, beneficially owns approximately 38.8 million shares of Hertz common stock, representing about 8.48% of Hertz's outstanding shares.
Icahn obviously has access to more information than the public has, and he believes the company and the stock have a long-term positive future. In an interview with Bloomberg on Oct. 21, Icahn said his policy is not to talk about a situation in which his team just got on the board of directors.
However, he did volunteer a few encouraging words: "Obviously we bought it, and obviously we are involved with it, and I think, like anything else, I hope we can help. We've helped in the past on a lot of companies like this." The words aren't a promise by any stretch, but it's nice to have a successful billionaire of Icahn's caliber pulling for shareholders.
If you have a very high risk tolerance and are a sucker for a bargain like I am, Hertz may be worth considering with some speculative capital. The industry appears strong, and worry has butchered the stock even though creditors and Icahn apparently feel confident enough to take a chance while they have information that we retail investors can only guess about.