In a terse note reported on StreetInsider.com this morning, investment bank Credit Suisse announced that it's cutting its rating on Ford stock from neutral to underperform. At the same time as it did so, however, Credit Suisse left its price target on the stock unchanged at $13 per share (nearly 12% higher than where the shares sit today). Why the disconnect, and why doesn't Credit Suisse think Ford is a buy, despite the shares being undervalued (and should you even care)?
Read on to find out.
Fact 1: Ford can't make its guidance
As the Fool's own John Rosevear reported last month, Ford earned a "record" profit last year: $7.4 billion worth of greenbacks, and generated operating cash flow nearly as strong -- $7.3 billion. Performance in the all-important North American market looked particularly strong, with pre-tax profits leaping 26%.
And yet, according to Credit Suisse, North America (or NA, as it says) is precisely the problem. With Americans buying light trucks hand over fist, Ford is predicting that 2016 profits will be "equal to or greater" than what we saw in 2015. But Credit Suisse warns that "NA EBIT guidance is ... overly optimistic." Says the analyst: "Pricing/mix gains from new product launches in NA have been fully offset by material cost increases."
Translation: Ford is going to miss guidance.
Fact 2: It's not just North America
Continuing to bang the gong of worry, Credit Suisse says that even outside of North America, "global inventories ... have fallen meaningfully out of step with demand." So even if Ford sold nearly $150 billion in wares last year, Credit Suisse sees this not as an indicator of sales strength -- but of channel stuffing.
Were we to stuff this banker's theory into a nutshell, crack it open and read what it says, the answer would go like this: Ford has pushed too much inventory into the market, and paid too-high costs to build it. Since demand isn't there, Ford will be forced to cut prices and boost incentives to move inventory this year -- and profits will fall.
Fact 3: General Motors is a better bargain right now
In a side note, Credit Suisse observed that it thinks General Motors (NYSE:GM) stock offers a better bargain than Ford today -- and they may be right.
At 4.7 times earnings, General Motors stock certainly looks cheaper than Ford and its 6.4 P/E ratio. Similarly, GM's 5.3% dividend yield beats out the 5% divvy that Ford pays its investors. The $45 billion debt load that General Motors carries also looks easier to bear than the $112 billion in debt tottering atop Ford's balance sheet (albeit admittedly, much of this debt is loans to Ford car buyers).
And one more thing...
The one piece missing out of this puzzle so far -- and the one that should perhaps interest investors who've seen Credit Suisse's downgrade most -- is this: How good of an analyst is Credit Suisse? Do these guys even known what they're talking about?
The answer is yes, unfortunately -- they do.
According to our data here at Motley Fool CAPS, where we've been tracking Credit Suisse's performance as an analyst for nearly a decade, this Swiss investment banker is one of the best analysts of American stocks you'll find. Our stats confirm that over the past 10 years, Credit Suisse has outperformed 88% of the investors we track, and scored an average outperformance of the S&P 500 of better than 11 percentage points per pick.
Credit Suisse has been especially good at picking automotive winners, where 62% of its recommendations have beat the market -- including two past sell recommendations on Ford.
Which as you might have noticed...is exactly what Credit Suisse is telling investors to do today.
Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of, nor is he short, any company named above. You can find him on Motley Fool CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 260 out of more than 75,000 rated members.
The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Ford. The Motley Fool also recommends General Motors. 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.