It would take an optimist to discern good news in the stock performance of the publicly traded U.S. auto retail groups.
While CarMax Group shook off the group's doldrums last year and delivered a hefty 70.6 percent total return on investment, the rest of the segment continued losing value in double digits.
As a group, retailers ended last year with a negative 32.4 percent total shareholder return, according to the Automotive News/Pricewaterhouse-Coopers Total Shareholder Returns Index.
But there may be signs of hope for retailer shareholders.
The index indicates the group may be bottoming out - and possibly even turning around. Over the past two years, the declines in shareholder returns have been getting smaller, says Michael Burwell, a PricewaterhouseCoopers partner in its Automotive Transaction Services Group.
CarMax's performance could set the tone for other retailer stock rebounds. Last year, the company reported encouraging operating news. It said that improved inventory management practices were yielding better gross margins for the chain. It said it had achieved higher used-car sales at its stores and announced plans to invest in more stores in its markets.
Burwell says the segment in general still is challenged by fundamental operating issues. Of particular concern is how to integrate multiple independent dealers into a single chain.
But on the positive side, e-retailing no longer is perceived to be as threatening to the chains as it was a year ago, Burwell says. A year ago, Wall Street appeared convinced that Internet auto retailing would cut into traditional buying patterns.