Ford Motor (NYSE:F) stock is up more than 100% year-to-date, but people still don’t seem to believe in it as an electric car company.
Lucid Group (NASDAQ:LCID), which just delivered its first car, is the latest electric start-up to pass Ford in market cap.
Before that Rivian (NASDAQ:RIVN) did it, on the heels of its initial public offering.
The last is doubly ironic because Ford owns 12% of Rivian. Ford also had $46 billion in cash at the end of September. It had sales of nearly $36.7 billion for the quarter ending in September and earned $1.8 billion on those sales.
Somehow all that is worth $79 billion while Rivian, with little more than a fat order book from Amazon.Com (NASDAQ:AMZN), is worth nearly twice as much.
While TV’s Jim Cramer keeps pounding the table for Ford, the market says “OK, Boomer” and buys anything else.
A Closer Look at F Stock
Companies making gas-powered cars are now less than worthless. They have workers under contract. They have manufacturing plants. They have supply deals. They have dealer networks.
All will have to be wound down over the next decade. This will cost money. The fact that Ford may throw off $24 billion in operating cash flow, as it did in 2020, is seen as irrelevant.
Ford is in the electric car race. It’s building four new plants to support its electric car efforts, in greenfield sites with no unions.
Despite this President Biden remains a big Ford booster, test driving an electric F-150 and enthusing, “That sucker’s quick.”
But even if Ford can sell the F-150, and a range of other electric cars, they will just be replacing current sales volumes. The old plants will have to be retired. So will its dealer network and service operation. After all, investors say, Tesla sells direct, it takes all its cars’ service revenue, as well as their fuel and (eventually) insurance cash.
It’s Tesla’s capture of a car’s lifetime value, and the fact that it’s unbound to the gas-powered world, that makes it worth a trillion dollars. It’s the hope that this can be replicated that makes Rivian worth $150 billion and makes LCID worth more than F stock.
Conventional Wisdom is Wrong
My problem is the electric car boom contains the seeds of its own bust.
Electric engines have one moving part, a drivetrain. Electric motors can fit on any chassis, from a scooter to a commuter train. Electrics cars will be filled with computer chips that could make them autonomous.
In a decade they may not be products at all, but services you order online and use as needed. Once Amazon has its 100,000 vans it can bid Rivian adios.
Ford says it will phase out gas-powered cars by 2040. It’s already recovering from the notorious chip shortage. It has the cash to make the turn and could easily get more by selling its stake in Rivian.
Investors are starting to take notice. Over the last three months, F stock is up 47%, the same as Tesla. But Tesla’s gain is worth 10 times more.
The Bottom Line
I said analysts were wrong about F stock back in 2018. Investors who listened are now starting to see a return. F stock was at $5/share as recently as April of 2020. It trades today at about $19.50.
But skepticism over Ford’s long-term future may be warranted. Ford is no longer a stock I want to hold for 10 years. My crystal ball is cloudy on it. But it’s dark as pitch on the other startups.
The next car you buy may be the last one you ever buy. Even if that car is a Ford.
On the date of publication, Dana Blankenhorn held a long position in AMZN. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.
Dana Blankenhorn has been a financial and technology journalist since 1978. Just in time for the holidays he has a collection of COVID-19 stories at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at email@example.com or tweet him at @danablankenhorn. He writes a Substack newsletter, Facing the Future, which covers technology, markets, and politics.