Over the past few months, trading in recreational vehicle stocks has mirrored that of the broad market — only in a more exaggerated fashion. As the novel coronavirus began to spread, U.S. equities fell, and RV stocks plunged even faster. Investors feared a potentially prolonged recession which would pressure earnings in the historically cyclical industry.
Indeed, by the end of March, the sector’s five biggest stocks all were down at least 43%. That was with a modest bounce from the lows as the market began to bounce.
After all, travel demand remained, particularly for families. Many Americans — especially those in higher income brackets — retained their jobs. That combination suggested that recreational vehicle sales might actually increase, as consumers shifted spending historically allocated to other types of vacations.
As a result, RV stocks took off. Since April 1, the weakest performer of the same group of five has rallied 88%. The other four have at least doubled.
The questions now are twofold. First, is the broader bullish thesis correct? And, if so, has the rally in the space incorporated the potential tailwind? The answers to those questions will determine the trajectory of these five RV stocks:
- Winnebago Industries (NYSE:WGO)
- Thor Industries (NYSE:THO)
- Camping World Holdings (NYSE:CWH)
- Patrick Industries (NASDAQ:PATK)
- LCI Industries (NYSE:LCII)
RV Stocks: Winnebago Industries (WGO)
Winnebago is probably the best known of the RV stocks. Its brand is strong enough that “Winnebago” often is used as a synonym for any self-propelled recreational vehicle.
Surprisingly, Winnebago isn’t the largest RV manufacturer. At this point, however, that might be good news. The company has looked to bulk up of late, spending a combined $870 million to acquire Grand Design and Newmar in two separate deals. The Grand Design acquisition filled a key product hole in towable RVs. Newmar moved Winnebago into the luxury end of the market.
This seems like a better company than it was just a few years ago, just as tailwinds are hitting its industry. But there are some reasons for caution. Most notably, WGO stock has been significantly volatile. It rose 119% in 2019 — and dropped by more than half the year before. During the early 2020 selloff, shares fell by two-thirds, then more than tripled.
As with the sector as a whole, there’s at least a worry that the rally may have run its course. WGO stock dropped almost 7% late last month after fiscal third-quarter earnings despite optimistic commentary. And I thought heading into the year that a low valuation was justified by the volatility in profits and the share price.
Owing to the acquisitions, and the leveraged balance sheet created as a result, WGO stock might well be the best play for RV bulls. But as history shows, there’s risk here as well.
Thor Industries (THO)
By market capitalization and revenue, it’s Thor Industries that is the industry’s biggest player. Thor, Winnebago and Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A, NYSE:BRK.B) unit Forest River control about 80% of the North American market. But of late, bigger hasn’t necessarily been better.
Winnebago stock has significantly outperformed Thor stock over three- and five-year periods. Over the latter stretch, WGO has gained 126%. THO has rallied just 24%.
That underperformance is due in part to the fact that THO nearly tripled between early 2016 and late 2017. In fact, shares still sit well below past highs.
That does suggest THO stock might have more room to run. So does a blowout fiscal Q3 report of its own last month, which actually looks stronger than that of Winnebago. Thor even posted a profit.
But shares are more expensive than peers based on consensus earnings estimates for next year, which incorporates some of that strength. THO is a solid choice in the group, but at this point it seems unlikely to be the biggest winner if the sector’s rally continues.
Camping World Holdings (CWH)
Investors buying the March dip could have found few better choices than Camping World Holdings. CWH stock has rallied a staggering 719% from its lows. That makes it seventh-best among more than 1,600 stocks with a market capitalization currently over $2 billion.
The rally makes some sense. CWH stock had been struggling heading into the year, as the company executed a “strategic shift” away from its non-RV business. As a result, margins were incredibly thin: Camping World turned barely 3% of 2019 sales into adjusted EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization).
With that shift and industry growth, however, the story changes in a hurry. A leaner, more focused company can drive margin improvement. Faster sales will do the same. And if the pandemic pushes a flood of new customers into the industry, those customers will need guidance.
As with the sector, however, the question is valuation. CWH trades at nearly 25x next year’s consensus earnings per share estimate. For any retailer, that’s a big multiple. It’s a multiple that incorporates quite a bit of success going forward.
Patrick Industries (PATK)
Patrick Industries stock looks like an intriguing pick among RV stocks for one key reason: It actually hasn’t rallied all that far. Shares have tripled from March lows — but still trade modestly below February highs. And at 15x forward earnings, valuation still looks reasonable.
One potential concern is that PATK isn’t quite an RV pure-play. The company does supply the industry with products like furniture components, shelving and fabricated aluminum. But Patrick has exposure elsewhere. A lower-margin distribution business accounted for nearly 20% of 2019 profit. Per the 2019 Form 10-K filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, only 55% of total revenue came from the RV market last year.
Still, this is an intriguing play. According to that same form, 14% of revenue comes from a marine business which serves another growing industry (boat stocks have performed much like RV stocks of late). Manufactured housing is another end market with growth potential. PATK might not be the purest stock in the group, but it looks like the cheapest.
LCI Industries (LCII)
The story at LCI Industries is somewhat similar to that of Patrick. LCI too manufactures RV components, though it focuses on larger products like windows and doors. LCI has similar RV exposure. Per figures from its own Form 10-K, the RV business makes up 54% of total sales.
This is a better story, however. LCI has better margins. An aftermarket business is growing quickly, with sales up 20% in 2019. There’s a case for owning LCI as a winner on broad RV trends: Thor and Forest River accounted for 46% of sales last year.
Here, too, however, valuation is a bit of a question mark, with LCII trading at 20x forward earnings. That premium to PATK to some extent is justified. Whether it’s completely justified, like so much else in the sector right now, likely comes down to investor preference.
Vince Martin has covered the financial industry for close to a decade for InvestorPlace.com and other outlets. He has no positions in any securities mentioned.