Shares in Scandinavian retailer Bilia rose 17.4 percent in the fourth quarter.
Bilia was the best performer among public auto dealers in a period of consolidation following two quarters of rapid gains.
The stock appreciated after Bilia said its operating profit in the third quarter rose
20 percent to 73 million Swedish kronor (currently E8 million) from 61 million kronor a year earlier. With 35 dealerships in Sweden, 15 in Norway and seven in Denmark, Bilia sells vehicles from volume manufacturers such as Renault and Ford, plus luxury brands such as Volvo and Land Rover.
It also operates in several central European countries that will join the European Union in May. Investors expect Bilia to profit from EU expansion.
HR Owen shares appreciated 6.44 percent in the quarter after investor Jack Petchey bought a 3.5 percent stake in Owen. Petchey has built stakes in dealer groups such as Quicks, Dixon Motors and European Motor Holdings.
Petchey bought his stake in HR Owen after the company warned in December that in 2003 the company would suffer its first loss in a decade. HR Owen blamed weak fleet sales and factory delays in delivering Lamborghinis, Bentleys and Rolls-Royces. HR Owen, with 2002 sales of about £500 million (E720 million), says it now holds the largest portfolio of specialist franchises in the UK.
Shares in CD Bramall lost 13.87 percent of their value during the fourth quarter, the worst showing among auto retailers.
This negative return comes despite expectations Bramall's revenue and profit for 2003 are likely to increase substantially. Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein expects Bramall 2003 revenue to grow by 20 percent to £1.74 billion and profit before interest and tax to reach £35.5 million, up 17.5 percent from last year.
PricewaterhouseCoopers says the stock fell because investors believe Bramall is still integrating Quickco, a former Ford parts wholesale business acquired in 2002, and PDS, a parts distribution business purchased last year.
Shares in Reg Vardy, the UK's No. 4 auto retailer, fell 6.9 percent in the fourth quarter.
The drop came even though Reg Vardy announced that operating profit in the six months ending October 31 was up 35.2 percent to £24.6 million. The group almost doubled its presence in Scotland last year by increasing its number of dealerships from 15 to 27.
But Reg Vardy plans to use new EU block exemption rules to open the first branded repair shops not attached to showrooms, investing about £10 million into a pilot project in Leeds.
"This may be the start of a new strategy for a number of the larger dealership groups which will try to build their own brand name rather than that of the vehicle manufacturers they represent," said Philip Wylie, head of the automotive team at PricewaterhouseCoopers' corporate finance division.