Automaker, supplier stocks struggle

Automotive stocks took a licking in the stock market last week, battered by investor fears and early reports that vehicle sales plunged after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

Big 3 shares fell harder than the major stock indexes, comparing Sept. 10 closing prices with Friday, Sept. 21 closing prices. The Dow Jones industrial average, for instance, was off 14.2 percent while prices for each of the Big 3 fell more than 20 percent. U.S. stock markets closed Sept. 11 and reopened Monday, Sept. 17.

Auto supplier stocks, already battered from cost-cutting pressure by automakers, also fell. By the end of last week, share prices of many of the biggest suppliers had reached or were close to six-month lows.

Stocks of auto retailers also fell but kept most of the price gains they had made this year.

For the Big 3:

n DaimlerChrysler sank to $28.20 on Friday, Sept. 21, down $0.04 from the day before. Its 52-week high was $52.72 in March 2001.

n General Motors hit $40.25 on Friday, Sept. 21, down $0.45 for the day. GM's 52-week high was $69.06 exactly a year ago. On the positive side, GM reported Sept. 17 that it still expects to reach its third-quarter profit goal of 83 cents per share.

n Ford Motor Co. sank to $15.34 on Sept. 21, down roughly 50 percent from its 52-week high of $31.42 in April. Ford also warned investors it will miss its target of 10 cents per share for third-quarter earnings.

Overall, new-vehicle sales fell 23 percent for the week of Sept. 11-17 compared with the previous week, according to dealerships surveyed by J.D. Power and Associates in Agoura Hills, Calif. Through August, U.S. light-vehicle sales were off 4.9 percent to 11.5 million units compared with the same eight-month period last year.

"Recent events increase our concern that automotive sales will decline significantly in the near term," said Brett Hoselton, auto industry analyst for McDonald Investments Inc. in Cleveland.

Among publicly held auto retailers, UnitedAuto Group Inc., based in Detroit, fell the hardest from Sept. 10 to Sept. 21, down 38.8 percent to $10.80. Still, that was well above its 52-week low of $6 per share.

Nevertheless, UnitedAuto, the fourth-largest U.S. dealer chain, on Wednesday, Sept. 19, reaffirmed its third-quarter earnings forecast of 38 cents per share compared with 40 cents a year ago. A day earlier the company said it would repurchase as many as 3 million shares of its own stock.

The company has about 23.4 million shares outstanding. Sonic Automotive Inc., the No. 2 U.S. dealer group, said on Thursday, Sept. 20, that it still expects to hit its earnings target of 50 cents per share for the third quarter, compared with 51 cents in the year-ago quarter.

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