For the past several years, automobile manufacturer Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) has been in a downward spiral. Despite burgeoning car sales in the U.S., Ford stock has continued to grind lower thanks to sluggish top-line growth, the threat of rising costs and a shaky long-term outlook muddied by the rising popularity of electric vehicles and ride-sharing.
That downward spiral has accelerated recently as Gary Cohn, Trump’s top economic adviser who was widely seen as the last man standing in the way of steel and aluminum tariffs, has left the White House. Now, hefty tariffs on aluminum and steel imports look like a done deal. That is bad for auto manufacturers like Ford. They use a lot steel and aluminum. So tariffs on those products will translate into substantially higher costs at a time when auto sales are starting to head in the wrong direction.
All in all, it’s an ugly backdrop for Ford stock.
Unfortunately, I don’t see that backdrop getting much prettier any time soon.
The near-term growth narrative is falling apart thanks to flattening, and even falling, U.S. automobile sales. The medium-term growth narrative is muddied by tariffs causing a spike in material costs. The long-term growth narrative is broken thanks to ride-sharing and electric vehicles going mainstream.
In other words, no matter your time frame, Ford stock looks doomed to operate against a dour backdrop.
Consequently, I think Ford stock is a sell now, tomorrow and into the foreseeable future.
Ford Is Doomed to Face Persistent Headwinds
In the near-term, Ford is staring at what is starting to look like a peak in U.S. auto demand. Total vehicle sales in the U.S. fell by 7% in February. That follows a similar 7% drop in January.
For the past several years, Ford’s total vehicle sales growth in the U.S. has been positive. This sudden flip into materially negative growth is no good. It illustrates a fear that bears have been having for a while: 2017 represented peak demand. Consequently, it is fairly likely that Ford vehicle sales in the U.S. remain weak into the foreseeable future.
Ford stock won’t head higher against the backdrop of falling sales.
In the medium-term, Ford is staring at significantly higher costs thank to hefty tariffs on steel and aluminum. UBS projects that Ford’s raw material costs could rise by another $300 million in 2018 thanks to tariffs. Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs estimates that tariffs could impact Ford’s operating profit line by as much as $1 billion, or roughly 7% of 2017 operating profit.
Ford stock won’t head higher against the backdrop of surging input costs.
In the long-term, Ford is staring at two major headwinds in the form of Tesla Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) and Uber. Tesla is pioneering a new era of electric vehicles, wherein Ford stands to lose significant auto market share. Meanwhile, Uber is pioneering a new era of ride-sharing, wherein Ford stands to lose because car ownership rates could drop dramatically (read this recent MIT study which shows how ride-sharing done correctly could greatly limit the number of cars on the road).
Ford stock won’t head higher against the backdrop of falling car ownership rates and rising Tesla adoption.
Overall, then, I don’t see Ford stock heading higher over the next several years. Into the foreseeable future, this company will face persistent headwinds which should limit the stock’s upside.
Bottom Line on Ford Stock
Sell now. Don’t buy later.
Ford stock will face persistent headwinds into the foreseeable future. That makes the stock a must-avoid until those headwinds ease.
As of this writing, Luke Lango was long TSLA.