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Tuesday, January 14, 2014 - 14:30

This 'Left For Dead' Automaker Is Thriving, Thanks To A Surprising Trend

Tuesday, January 14, 2014 - 2:30pm

Imagine a company that not only filed bankruptcy in 2009, but was bounced from owner to owner as a nearly toxic asset that fateful year. Things were so bad for this once thriving American firm that it was forced to accept a $4 billion bailout.

Despite Uncle Sam's helping hand, the situation was so negative that the company stopped trading on the U.S. stock exchanges. While there's now serious talk about being relisted, this formerly downtrodden company currently trades in the U.S. only under its foreign benefactor's ticker symbol.

This company isn't some no-name widget maker. It was once a leading American manufacturer whose brands have remained respected and international household names despite its fall from grace. Today, an unexpected resurgence of consumer demand for some of its leading products has enabled the company to post dramatically improved numbers as well as create a unique, profitable opportunity for investors.

I am talking about Chrysler Group, maker of the iconic Jeep SUV and Ram pickup models.

Decimated by the financial crisis combined with soaring gasoline prices, it looked like sales of SUVs and light trucks would never recover to their pre-crisis levels. Now that the worst of the downturn finally appears to be behind us, sales of SUVs and light trucks are starting to dominate the global market once again. As you can see from this chart, gasoline prices have hit a plateau below the highs, helping to lure more consumers back into the SUV market.

While small-car sales plunged in 2013, sales of SUVs and light trucks soared. For example, sales of Ford's (NYSE: F) compact Focus and Fiesta fell 31% and 20%, respectively, in December, sales of its F-150 pickup improved 8.4%. Overall, small cars of all brands fell by 7.8% in 2013, according to Automotive News. At the same time, sales of large pickups were 16.8% higher, Autodata reports.

My colleague Marshall Hargrave made a powerful case earlier this month as to why Ford will make a great investment this year. I agree with him 100%, and I also think the Chrysler Group holds tremendous upside for risk-embracing investors.

After emerging from bankruptcy in 2009, Chrysler LLC flipped nearly 100% of its assets to the newly formed Chrysler Group LLC, which was formed in union with Fiat (OTC: FIATY). Since then, the company has posted 45 consecutive months of year-over-year sales gains. In addition, Chrysler Group has repaid its $7.6 billion in U.S. and Canadian government loans six years ahead of schedule with interest.

This all sounds great, but where's the edge with investing in Chrysler? Here are five reasons:

1. A Strong 2013​
In December alone, U.S. sales increased 6%, the best December in the past six years. Overall annual sales jumped 9%, with Jeep posting a record year.​

2. Caught The Trend​
Chrysler Group is well positioned to continue to ride the global SUV- and truck-buying trend, as sales of its trucks and SUVs last year exceeded sales of its cars. The company plans on boosting production of its Jeep Grand Cherokee and adding a larger SUV to the brand in 2016.

The company has hit the production limit of these vehicles in its Detroit plant and has plans to expand its factory in Sterling Heights, Mich., to meet demand. With gas prices leveling off, increasing Chinese and U.S. consumer demand, higher quality, better gas mileage SUV sales should continue to trend higher over the next several years.​

3. Higher-Priced Vehicles​
Overall, new-car prices are up by 10% from 2005, and sales of higher-margin luxury SUVs and premium trucks are increasing. Chrysler has vastly improved the interiors of its once Spartan Jeep brand in line with the luxury trend.

4. Fiat Takes Full Control​
On Jan. 1, Fiat announced a $4.35 billion deal with Chrysler Group's minority shareholder, a UAW autoworkers' health trust, to buy full control of its U.S.-based cohort. This opens the doors for a merger between the two companies, creating a stronger and more stable company.​

5. Strong Technical Picture​
Shares of Fiat gapped higher on Jan. 1. Normally, I would be bearish with a technical pattern like this. However, knowing the cause of the gap was the deal between Fiat and the minority shareholder provides strong reasons that the gap higher will be a permanent feature of the daily chart. In addition, a bullish pattern has emerged on the daily chart.

Risks to Consider: Consumer trends can quickly end. Although I think the SUV and truck trend will continue, there's no way to know for certain. In addition, auto sales are tightly tied to global economic growth. A growth slowdown will have a negative effect the company. Always use stop-loss orders and diversify when investing.

Action to Take --> Since you can't invest directly in Chrysler Group, I like Fiat right now as a buy. Buying between $9.20 and $9.50 with a 12-month target of $14 makes solid technical and fundamental sense.

P.S. If you're looking for a strong U.S. stock to play the SUV trend, you should know that StreetAuthority's research staff recently named Ford one of its Top 10 growth stocks for 2014. For your copy of this report and our exclusive report on the absolute best stocks to own this year, click here.

David Goodboy does not personally hold positions in any securities mentioned in this article.
StreetAuthority LLC does not hold positions in any securities mentioned in this article.

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