If you’re a car guy (or gal), particularly if you’re into trucks, then you’re likely familiar with the fierce brand battle between Ford Motor (F) and General Motors (GM). Ford’s iconic F-Series pickups are the most popular vehicle in the U.S., while GM’s Chevy Silverado brand has been gaining ground as an alternative to the Ford brand.
Now, while car enthusiasts might fight over which brand is best, and which brand represents the true American vehicle, those of us concerned primarily with investment opportunities have a completely different way of looking at this fight. In fact, most of us don’t really care what’s in our portfolio, as long as it can make us some money.
Over the past 12 months, F stock has delivered a gain of about 15%, along with an annual dividend yield of close to 3.4%. Meanwhile, GM stock has driven 25% higher over the past 52 weeks, and sports an annual yield of 3.4%.
Of course, that performance is all in the past, so what about the rest of this year? Will GM stock stay ahead of F stock? Or is Ford just setting up GM for a pass in 2014?
Ford Takes Pulls Ahead With Profits
In terms of overall global sales, Ford is America’s second-largest automaker behind behemoth GM. But in terms of profitability in its most-recent quarter, Ford is way out in front. In late January, F stock reported a 90% jump in Q4 income, with earnings of $3.039 billion, or 74 cents per share. That strong metric was up from the $1.598 billion, or 40 cents per share, the company reported in the prior year.
When you back out special items, EPS for F stock was 31 cents, but that was still much better than the estimate for EPS of 28 cents. F stock also saw a revenue increase to $37.6 billion from $36.3 billion the prior year, also better than estimates.
However, that good Q4 news was blunted recently by poor January U.S. auto sales. During the very cold month, sales slowed by 7.5%. That was a much bigger decline than the 2.3% that auto analysts had expected. Moreover, since the beginning of the year the widespread market selloff has slapped F stock with a 4% decline.
General Motors Spins Out
Up until last week, GM was the second-largest car company in the world behind only Toyota (TM). Now German auto giant Volkswagen (VLKAY) has claimed the No. 2 position. That’s not exactly the development GM stock was hoping for. Yet perhaps more disturbing for GM stock was the company’s latest earnings report, which saw a 13% drop in Q4 profit.
In contrast to Ford, which saw the aforementioned profit spike, GM stock posted adjusted profit of 67 cents per share — well below the 88 cents Wall Street was looking for. While both revenue and earnings were up over the same period last year, the increases were only slight, and “Not where we want to be,” according to new CEO Mary Barra, who commented on the numbers during the earnings conference call for GM stock.
Barra is intent on making her mark as the first female U.S. auto CEO, but the first earnings release since she took the wheel was disappointing to say the least. Interestingly, however, after the initial selloff following Thursday’s earnings release, GM stock managed to recover nicely by the closing bell.
The Final Verdict — F stock or GM stock?
Both Ford and GM had inauspicious starts to 2014 in terms of January sales, but that can be forgiven somewhat due to the horrific weather that blanketed much of the country.
On the profit front, F stock appears to be firing on all cylinders while GM stock needs a little tune-up. In terms of share price performance, F stock has struggled of late, breaking below its 50- and 200-day moving averages this year. Unfortunately, GM stock also has tumbled, and it too has crumbled below its short- and long-term trend lines.
While the race between F stock and GM stock is close, I am going to give the edge to Ford here for 2014. I think the key driver here is going to be U.S. sales. Ford has its newly redesigned F-150 pickup coming out later this year, and there’s already a lot of positive buzz about the vehicle.
GM must rely more on global vehicle sales for its revenues, and according to many of the metrics we’ve seen of late from regions such as China and Europe, global auto sales aren’t exactly lighting up.
It’s a close call, but between F stock and GM stock, I’m getting behind the wheel of Ford.
Disclosure: At the time of this writing, Jim Woods held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned. He does, however, use F-Series pickups at his ranch in Southern California.