Often times, the best trades in the stock market are those that align with a secular narrative.
Right now, there are a whole bunch of secular narratives running around the market. There is the boom in digital commerce, and the boom in cloud-hosted services. On the flip side, there is the deterioration of brick-and-mortar shopping and on-premise digital solutions.
But those secular narratives have already largely played out. The upside in digital retail stocks has largely been realized, while the downside in traditional retail stocks has also largely been realized. Same with cloud and on-premise stocks.
One of the most powerful secular narratives that has yet to fully play out is the erosion in personal automotive vehicle demand.
This narrative might seem like a shocker. Almost everyone has a car today.
But thanks to robust growth in the sharing economy (see Uber and Lyft), the need for individuals to own a car in the future will be significantly less than it is today. As such, car ownership rates will fall, and that will drag down car stocks.
With that in mind, here is a list of 3 car stocks which have been stuck in neutral for a long time.
Car Stocks Stuck in Neutral #1: Ford Motor Company (F)
Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) has been one of Wall Street’s least favorite investments over the past several years.
Five years ago, Ford stock was at $11 and the S&P 500 was at 1,600. Today, Ford stock is still at $11 while the S&P 500 is above 2,600.
What is going on the under the hood? A whole bunch of things. None of which are positive.
Firstly, car demand — which was had been picking up since the recession — is now falling in the U.S. Car sales are down sharply to start 2018, and a big reason why is tightening credit. Rates are expected to only head higher, so this headwind will only get worse.
Secondly, there is this not-so-insignificant company called Tesla Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) that is pioneering a new era of electric vehicles. In that new era, Tesla will be king, and Ford will lose a lot of market share.
Thirdly, no-car households are becoming more normal in the U.S. That is significant. For decades, the number of no-car households in the U.S. fell. But over the past several years, they have gone up.
Also over the past several years, the popularity of ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft have surged in popularity.
That isn’t a coincidence. As such, car ownership rates will continue to drop in the U.S., and demand for Ford vehicles will erode.
That means that a bottom isn’t in on Ford stock. The company’s numbers will only get worse over the next several years, and this stock isn’t priced for that reality.
Car Stocks Stuck in Neutral #2: Toyota Motor Corp (TM)
Unlike Ford, Toyota Motor Corp (ADR) (NYSE:TM) has actually staged a rally over the past year. The company seems to have its act together on the electric vehicle front, and is actually seeing demand for its vehicles rise amid an otherwise dour car sales backdrop.
In this sense, Toyota is much more prepared to succeed in tomorrow’s EV-dominated world than Ford.
But, the company is still staring at the falling car ownership rates headwind. With overall car demand heading in the opposite direction to a permanently depressed point, Toyota will inevitably suffer from lower sales volume over the next several years.
That makes Toyota stock look particularly susceptible here and now considering its up 20% over the past year.
Most other car companies are trading at a massive discount to their historically average valuations thanks to waning car demand. But not TM stock. TM stock trades at roughly 5-times trailing cash flow, 0.7-times trailing sales, and 8.5-times trailing EBITDA, all of which are roughly in-line with historical levels.
Because of this, TM stock does not seem appropriately priced for demand erosion to occur over the next several years. As such, downside risk looks immense at current levels.
Car Stocks Stuck in Neutral #3: General Motors Company (GM)
Of all three car stocks in this gallery, General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) is perhaps the best positioned to weather adverse secular changes coming to the automotive market.
But that doesn’t mean the stock won’t get hit.
On the positive side, GM has done surprisingly well in the U.S. amid a dour sales backdrop. Whereas Ford’s U.S. sales are in retreat, GM’s U.S. sales are actually advancing. While this is a positive, it also feels like a near-term phenomena that isn’t entirely sustainable in a multi-year window.
Moreover, GM is big on self-driving. The company is pouring tons of money into R&D related to self-driving, and is expected to launch a self-driving car without a steering wheel by next year. Considering self-driving cars are the future, it is positive to see GM on the right side of the tracks in this secular narrative.
Also, GM is testing an Airbnb service for cars wherein consumers can rent out their cars, similar to Turo. This move is actually a bet on the rise of the sharing economy. Thus, GM is actually braced to offset waning car ownership rates by benefiting from a rise in car rental rates.
These positives will help GM weather the coming storm. But the storm is still coming. And that means GM stock will likely be hit.
The valuation on the stock, though, is fairly cheap, especially relative to historical standards. Consequently, downside risk feels more limited than with Ford or Toyota.
As of this writing, Luke Lango was long TSLA.