Thursday Winners: Magna’s Hot Streak May Not Last

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. Magna International’s (NYSE: MGA) efforts to buy Chrysler, as well as the Opel arm of GM failed. Had the company succeeded in buying one of those brands, Magna could well be producing massive operating losses right now. Instead, Magna has remained focused on its core auto assembly and auto parts manufacturing businesses. And that’s a good business right now: This morning Magna announced that first-quarter sales were up +54% from a year ago, gross margins doubled to 13.5%, and per-share profits were more than double the consensus estimate. That fueled a +15% gain in share prices this morning.

#-ad_banner-#If you simply took the most recent quarter’s profits and annualized them, shares of Magna still look reasonably priced at around nine times profits. But there is a big note of caution: Magna is heavily exposed to the European auto market, especially in its auto assembly business, and that market looks ripe for a pullback. Not only were future sales pulled into past quarters thanks to various “cash for clunkers” programs, but the growing crisis in Greece could spread elsewhere. Europeans have been known to sharply curtail auto purchases whenever a fresh crisis emerges.

Even though analysts are likely to sharply boost forecasts after these strong results (which could push shares yet higher), those estimates may then need to be ratcheted back down in coming months as the extent of the European auto slowdown starts to clarify. The strategy: See how far the stock runs from here, and wait for the new consensus profit forecasts to stabilize at higher levels in coming weeks. Then look to possibly short this name, as it is likely to sport a price-to-earnings ratio (P/E) in excess of 15 (on eventually lowered profit forecasts). And that P/E is far above where auto companies and their suppliers typically trade.

Company Name (Ticker) Intra-Day Price Market Cap 52-Week High 52-Week Low 2010* P/E 2011* P/E
Magna Intl. (NYSE: MGA) $70.95 $8.0B $76.08 $30.66 21.4 12.9
Titanium Metals (NYSE: TIE) $16.64 $3.0B $17.39 $7.16 118.9 37.8
InterMune (Nasdaq: ITMN) $12.43 $691M $49.46 $9.75 N/A N/A
*Based on consenus estimates prior to recent earnings release


Commodities — and the companies that produce them — often trade in lock-step. And recently, various metals have seen sharp price drops in the futures market on concerns that China’s insatiable demand may cool. But demand for titanium is holding up well, enabling Titanium Metals (NYSE: TIE) to buck the industry’s bearish trend. The company released decent first-quarter results on Wednesday evening. But more important, it anticipates strengthening results in coming quarters. That helped push shares up around +15% this morning.

Although shares are near a 52-week high, they trade for less than half the $30 to $40 range seen a few years ago when the global economy was growing steadily. But China, which helped fuel that 2006 and 2007 spurt in commodities, may indeed be cooling as the government starts to raise bank lending standards to prevent a bubble. Titanium is also heavily used in aircraft, and order rates at Boeing (NYSE: BA) and Airbus, are good but not great. Net/net, the titanium rally probably has legs, but it’s unrealistic to expect shares of Titanium Metals to re-visit those 2007 peaks.


As we noted in our profile of fair value some 20% to 30% above today’s rebounding price, or $15 to $16 a share. As management articulates its plans to get its lung disease drug back into clinical trials, shares should start to receive a fresh round of backing from analysts.