Volkswagen (VLKAF) and Porsche (POAHF) stock are poised to motor ahead this year after VW turned the corner on its emissions scandal with the $4.3 billion settlement of U.S. civil and criminal fines, according to analysts at Exane BNP.
The agreement struck Wednesday with the U.S. Department of Justice "draws a line under one of the greatest uncertainties around the diesel saga and should open VW shares to a broader investment audience," Exane analyst led by Stuart Pearson noted Thursday. "As risks fade, earnings should come back in focus -- we see a 25%+ beat at Q4."
Exane gave VW a 12-month target price of €172 ($183) a share, up from its previous prediction of €165. The new target price is 13% higher than the company's Thursday trading price of €152.35. Exane also increased its price target for VW-owned Porsche, raising it to €66 from €62, 14% higher than its Thursday price of €57.85.
VW on Wednesday signed off on a record fine for an automobile maker and agreed the appointment of an independent monitor for three years to settle U.S. claims related to its rigging of emission tests on its diesel engines. The company also admitted that about 40 employees at its VW and Audi units deleted thousands of documents in a bid to hide the subterfuge, while six employees will face criminal charges for their role in the scandal.
The deal with the D.O.J. raises the total cost of settling claims relating to the scandal to about $20 billion.
Under the terms of the $4.3 billion deal, VW must pay $2.8 billion, amounting to its criminal fines, within 10 days of a yet to be announced official hearing date and the remaining $1.45 billion of civil fines within 30 days, meaning all the fines are likely to be booked in 2017.
VW has the cash to absorb those outgoings. The company is likely to end 2016 with about €30 billion in net cash, meaning there is little risk that it will seek to raise capital to cover the cost of the fines.
Crucially, in terms of ongoing legal claims against the company, the agreement doesn't include an admission of liability at the board level, bolstering the company's defense against about $10 billion of claims brought by shareholders.
"With no board members implicated, the probability of VW losing its shareholder suits drops in our view - we now model a 33% probability of loss versus 50% previously," noted Exane.
As the risk eases of further litigation payments, investor attention should return to the company's fundamentals. That could drive a re-evaluation of the stock, possibly beginning on March 14, when the company will release its fourth quarter and fully year 2016 results.
"We are optimistic on VW's prospects in 2017 as new product, cost savings and FX gains provide material tailwinds to earnings. Q4 volumes also proved stronger than expected, prompting very modest EPS upgrades," wrote Exane's analysts. "However we note we are more than 25% ahead of consensus for Q4 EBIT, and c.10-15% ahead for FY17e."