New-car sales might be driving back from the recessionary disaster, but that doesn’t mean people are abandoning their old cars en masse for the latest, greatest models. There’s still a pretty healthy auto repair market, and that bodes well for do-it-yourself auto parts retailers. But now that Gores Group LLC plans to acquire Pep Boys (NYSE:PBY) for $800 million and take it private, investors might want to take a closer look at publicly traded rivals Advance Auto Parts (NYSE:AAP), AutoZone (NYSE:AZO) and O’Reilly Automotive (NASDAQ:ORLY).
Consumer optimism drove new-vehicle sales to an annualized rate of 14.1 million in January — the highest level since the 2009 “Cash For Clunkers” program, according to the research firm Autodata. While that might seem like bad news for the DIY auto parts market, it actually has a sort of trickle-down effect. Vehicle owners who put off pricey repairs in the past are now getting ahead of maintenance and repairs. Although the economy is improving, many vehicle owners still are budget-conscious — and that’s driving sales at retail parts stores.
More car owners are doing their own repairs these days, according to the new 2012 DIY Report from AutoMD.com. The report found that 64% of respondents now have a vehicle with more than 100,000 miles — 20% higher than the previous year’s study. More than 40% now drive a vehicle that is over 10 years old. More than half of DIY-ers admit to postponing auto repairs in the past 12 months, and the economy is the culprit for nearly two-thirds of them, AutoMD says.
So which DIY auto parts stocks are best positioned to cash in on strong DIY auto repair trends in 2012? A few. Here’s a look at the three likely kings of the road:
Last week, ORLY reported a 35% increase in fourth-quarter earnings to $121 million (93 cents a share), compared to $98 million (69 cents) in the year-ago period. Sales grew 6% to nearly $1.4 billion, but same-store sales growth slipped to 3.3% from 9.2% a year earlier. For this year, ORLY has an EPS target of $4.27 to $4.37 and is projecting same-store sales growth in the 3%-to-6% range. O’Reilly was keenly focused on repurchasing stock last year, acquiring nearly 16 million shares in fiscal 2011 at an average price of about $61.50.
With a market cap of $10.7 billion, ORLY is trading around $83.50 — 56% higher than its 52-week low last March. The stock has a price-to-earnings growth (PEG) ratio of about 1, indicating the stock is fairly valued. ORLY has a one-year return of 44%.
Advance Auto Parts
AAP’s profits have grown in each of the past three quarters and likely will rise for a fourth when the company reports quarterly earnings Thursday. Wall Street analysts are looking for EPS of 74 cents, up from 57 cents a year ago. Sales are expected to have grown in the 3%-to-4% range during the quarter and should come in around $1.3 billion.
With a market cap of $5.8 billion, AAP is trading around $79.50, 61% above its 52-week low last August. The stock also is fairly valued at a 1 PEG, and AAP shares have a one-year return of 22%.
Analysts are expecting quarterly earnings of $4.02 when AutoZone next reports on Feb. 28. If true, that would amount to an impressive rise over the $3.34 EPS the retailer posted for the same quarter a year ago.
With a market cap of $14.1 billion, AZO is trading around $360, 45% above its 52-week low last March. AutoZone also has a PEG of 1, and its 52-week return is 37%.
However, debt is an issue to keep an eye on. AZO has $3.5 billion in debt compared to $100 million in cash — significantly higher than either ORLY or AAP.
Expect big things for all three of these stocks in 2012 as the market opportunity continues to grow. Like all retailers, these companies will face pressures from online competitors. Although Manny, Moe and Jack’s Pep Boys will no longer be publicly traded, the chain will still be a strong competitor. But these three companies have what it takes to go the distance: solid fundamentals, a strong value proposition, and a popular market niche.
My target is $100 on ORLY. If earnings come in as expected or better in the next couple of weeks, I like AAP at $98 and AZO at $400.
As of this writing, Susan J. Aluise did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.