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Better Buy: General Motors Company vs. Ford Motor

By Dan Caplinger – Mar 8, 2016 at 8:10AM

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Both of these automakers have seen record sales, but their shares have fallen. Which looks more promising?

Image: General Motors.

Automakers General Motors (GM 4.03%) and Ford Motor (F 2.71%) have sent investors mixed messages over the past year. 2015 was a record year for the two automakers in terms of sales, but the declines in both stocks haven't rewarded investors. Now, value-hunting investors are starting to take a closer look at Ford and GM, and they want to know which one is the better place to put money to work. Let's take a look at how General Motors and Ford Motor compare on some key metrics to see which deserves your attention right now.

Both General Motors and Ford Motor have seen their shares fall back over the past year. The declines in the two stocks are pretty similar, with Ford falling 16% since early 2015 and General Motors posting a 17% decline.

What's interesting is that the declines have come during a period of solid performance on the earnings front. As a result, simple earnings-based valuations make both stocks look ridiculously cheap. Ford currently trades at just seven times its trailing earnings, a multiple that you'd be hard-pressed to find among leading companies in just about any other industry at the moment. General Motors sports an even more attractive valuation of just five times trailing earnings.

Ordinarily, such low multiples would reflect anticipated declines in future earnings. Yet on a forward basis, the bargains still persist. Ford's forward multiple drops to six, while General Motors keeps its value of five. Based on simple valuation metrics, Ford and General Motors both look extremely inexpensive, with General Motors having a slight edge on that front.

For dividend investors, looking at the two automaker stocks leads to similar conclusions. General Motors sports a dividend yield of about 5% right now, compared to a 4.5% dividend yield for Ford. However, Ford's yield doesn't include the impact of its $0.25 per share special dividend in January. If you add that in, Ford's total dividend yield would jump to 6.5%, topping General Motors by a sizable margin.

Both companies have done a good job of boosting payouts. Ford reinstituted its dividend in 2012 and has since tripled its regular quarterly payout. General Motors took a slightly different approach, waiting until 2014 to start returning capital to shareholders in dividends but immediately setting a high yield when it made its first payout. GM gave investors a 20% boost last year as well.

Based on current earnings, both companies have low payout ratios, although Ford's 32% is higher than GM's 24%. Some fear that earnings have peaked and payout ratios could rise, but the margin of safety at current levels is still fairly substantial. Because of its special dividend, Ford gets a slight edge on the dividend front.

The biggest question Ford and General Motors face is where they go from here. Ford's revenue approached the $150 billion mark in 2015, and the company produced record net income of $7.4 billion. Huge profits in North America led Ford higher, but solid performance in Europe and Asia also helped contribute to Ford's good year. Even though tough areas like the South American market still present challenges, Ford expects 2016 to match 2015's strength, and sustaining last year's earnings per share should be enough to make investors comfortable, given its current rock-bottom stock valuation.

General Motors posted fairly similar results, generating $9.7 billion in net income on $152 billion in revenue. Unfavorable exchange rates held GM's sales down from 2014's levels, but strength in the North American and Chinese markets helped drive the automaker's profits forward. Difficulties in Europe and South America plagued General Motors, but the company has worked to assert its pricing power and to rein in costs in its European operations. GM hopes that hard-hit economies in Brazil and Argentina will rebound, and more broadly, the automaker expects rising earnings per share of 5% to 15% for the year.

Overall, both companies look like good buys right now, but General Motors arguably has an edge in terms of growth and valuation. What both Ford and General Motors need to avoid is a dramatic falloff in vehicle demand in 2016. Barring a recession, though, both GM and Ford appear to be firing on all cylinders right now.

Dan Caplinger owns shares of Ford. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Ford. The Motley Fool recommends General Motors. 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.

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