AutoNation shares surge after speeding past earnings estimates

AutoNation said it expects strong demand for new vehicles to continue into next year, as low-interest rates and robust demand helped the top US auto retailer trounce quarterly earnings estimates.

The company said on Monday sales of new and used vehicles surged 42 percent and 37 percent, respectively, in the second quarter.

Shares of the stock were up 4.4 percent, to $107.03, in early afternoon trading.

“Consumers are buying vehicles before they even arrive at our stores. We expect the current environment of demand exceeding supply to continue into 2022,” Chief Executive Mike Jackson said in a statement.

The global semiconductor chip shortage has depleted vehicle inventories and forced automakers to cut production, prompting consumers to pay more for cars.

Cars in a lot at an AutoNation dealership
A shortage of chips and other problems have caused auto production to lag.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

In its latest auto-industry forecast released in June, JD Power said the average price of a new vehicle was set to reach a record $38,088 in the first half of 2021, up 10.1 percent over a year ago when pandemic lockdowns brought the U.S. auto industry to a near standstill.

“Everyone is comparing (current prices) against the collapse of last year,” Jackson told Reuters on Monday.

A year ago, used vehicle prices were depressed as rental fleets rushed to unload vehicles stranded by the plunge in travel, he said.

Now, AutoNation is stepping up efforts to acquire used vehicles directly from consumers to meet strong demand. A new AutoNation USA used vehicle store in San Antonio was profitable in its first month of operation, Jackson said.

An AutoNation logo displayed on a smart phone
Shares of AutoNation popped on Monday thanks to a boffo second-quarter report.
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett

Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based AutoNation’s gross profit per new vehicle jumped 89 percent, to $4,157, in the quarter ended June 30, while the gross profit per used vehicle rose 24 percent, to $2,240.

The company had 14 days of supply for new vehicles in the quarter, compared with 49 a year earlier.

Adjusted net income from continuing operations came in at a record $4.83 per share, easily beating a Refinitiv IBES estimate of $2.81. Record revenue of $6.98 billion was also higher than expectations.

The company said overhead costs in the second quarter were 56.5 percent of revenue, down from 68.9 percent a year ago. Jackson said he expects overhead expenses will be at 60 percent of revenue for the full year, compared to more than 70 percent before the pandemic, as more than half of customers use the company’s online tools to shop and complete steps of a purchase.

“We are at a good cost place, and digital capability enabled that,” Jackson said.

The company had $1.6 billion of liquidity as of June 30 and said its board had authorized a share buyback worth $1 billion.

AutoNation also said it was on track to open four new stores in the US in the second half and 12 new stores in 2022.

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