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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Europe's Troubles: BMW postscript

...my quick analysis suggests no European OEM will weather the coming storm without taking on a fearful amount of water...
According to an August 16th Bloomberg post on BMW, discounting is rampant in the German market, while sales are not responding. (According to a friend who has worked in Europe, this phenomenon of phantom sales goes back decades, rediscovered in each recession given that the careers of analysts and reporters of the industry seldom span multiple downturns.) Now I visited BMW's plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina in January 2012; it was running flat out and adding capacity, because the models produced there are global hits, with the majority of output exported. My back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that plant is about 1/5th of BMW's global output, given capacity additions in China.
Of course a big slice of those exports go to Europe, which is in recession; overall the region accounts for 30% of BMW's sales. The elimination of the "block exemption" in late 2003 removed restrictions that limited the ability of dealerships to sell cross-border; German stores now compete with those in Italy. As long as the euro lasts, troubles in one large market now spill over to the rest of Europe. [And if the euro doesn't last ... but that's my premise.] Meanwhile growth has slowed in the BRICs, which account for 25% of sales.
So while the European near-luxury makers are more diversified than Peugeot, Renault or Fiat, they too remain vulnerable.
And then there's the massive VW empire, 10 brands including a full range of trucks, and a solid sales base in most markets except the US and Japan -- and it is now targeting the US aggressively. However, with a market share of just over 4%, its footprint simply isn't large enough to generate sufficient profits to offset weaknesses elsewhere (and with a new plant, depreciation looms large, good for cashflow but not the bottom line). To analyze how the firm will weather the looming European meltdown would require piecing together these operations. Analysis is further hampered by the lack of geographic data in the stock analyst reports I've scanned. They may be the best immunized -- but I can't make a case one way or the other.
...Mike Smitka...
Addendum: Pending blog post I spent over an hour discussing the European industry with a retired senior Detroit 3 executive whose career included multiple postings to Europe. He helped point out variations across firms and markets, a level of detail beyond my experience or ability to quickly [this is a blog!] research. More once I hit a comfortable rhythm with my teaching overload this fall, and add nuance to my analysis of Europe.