BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- General Motors (GM - Get Report), which released earnings today, is expected to reclaim a global sales lead, overtaking quake-damaged Toyota (TM - Get Report). GM remains a compelling long-term value, and its stock has rebounded 5.4% since hitting a post-IPO low on April 19. A recent uptick in auto optimism, helped by a solid quarterly report from arch-rival Ford (F - Get Report), is just the latest reason to consider this undervalued stock for 2011.
This morning, GM posted first-quarter sales of $36 billion and net income of $3.2 billion. On an adjusted basis, the automaker reported earnings per share of 95 cents. Both the top- and bottom-line results exceeded analysts' consensus expectations.
The analyst sentiment for GM remains overwhelmingly positive, with 75% of researchers in coverage advising clients to purchase shares and 25% recommending they hold them. A median 12-month target of $43.29 suggests that the stock is almost universally considered undervalued as that mark suggests a 32% advance. The equity currently costs an enterprise-value-to-EBITDA multiple of 3.9 and a free-cash-flow multiple of 4.7, 52% and 74% peer discounts.
Ford's stock has risen marginally since it released first-quarter earnings, though its report was well-received. Ford increased its adjusted earnings 29% to 62 cents, beating consensus by 25%. Sales, up 4.9% to $33 billion, outgrew the consensus by 7.6%. GM, which has a fast-growth China unit, had similarly strong beats. The consensus profit forecast for GM trended up by a cent in the past four weeks. And, on Tuesday, UBS, previously cautious about GM, lifted its rating on the stock to "buy" and boosted its 12-month price target 20%, from $35 to $42, while altering its thesis.The Swiss bank cited Japan disruptions as a catalyst that will propel the stock. GM shares rallied more than 2% intraday on the sentiment shift and news that April U.S. sales jumped 26%, beating the expectation for a 14% gain. But, bears note that inventory, which is quickly depreciating as auto models lose value rapidly, has risen to an elevated 577,000. Critics, calling this "channel stuffing," argue that headline performance is overstated, and car sales, at a still below-trend 13 million annualized pace, indicate that demand is weak. But, the recent rate decline is attributable to Japan manufacturing disruptions, helping GM's market share.