Shares of AmeriCredit ( ACF) sank Wednesday amid concerns that the subprime auto lender's quarterly loss is a bad sign that the worsening housing environment is taking its toll on consumer spending. Moody's Investors Service on Wednesday cut its outlook on the auto lender to negative from stable, a day after Fort Worth, Texas-based AmeriCredit posted a loss of $19 million, or 17 cents a share, for its fiscal second quarter ending in December. Analysts had estimated that AmeriCredit would make a profit of 22 cents a share for the quarter. Shares were down as much as 13% on Wednesday but have since recovered. The stock was down 20 cents in recent trading to $10.08. "The December quarter was challenging on many fronts, with weaker credit performance and uncertainty in the capital markets," said CEO Dan Berce. "As a result, we have revised our operating plans to align our loan volume with available capital resources. Over the next several months, we will bring our originations infrastructure and overhead into alignment with our revised originations target." It is becoming increasingly apparent that in the final calendar quarter of 2007, the credit crisis has leaked outside of the housing market and obscure debt securities and has begun to affect even large financial institutions such as Citigroup ( C) and JPMorgan Chase ( JPM), both of which highlighted concerns about consumer spending in earnings reports last week.
The news does not bode well for consumer finance companies like AmeriCredit and the credit card company Capital One Financial ( COF), which reports its results after the markets close Wednesday. Other credit card companies including American Express ( MA) and MasterCard ( MA) report earnings next week. AmeriCredit originated $1.8 billion in auto loans in the quarter and managed to securitize $1.03 billion in loans, but its gain on sale of loans was just $6.5 million in the quarter, compared with $58 million in the year-earlier period. Net charge-offs totaled 6.9% of the lender's managed receivables of $16.4 billion at the end of the quarter, up from 5.8% from a year earlier. Loans that were 31 to 60 days delinquent rose slightly to 6.8%. The company is tightening its underwriting standards and funding fewer new loans. It also is undertaking a restructuring initiative by reining in expenses and cutting staff, as well as obtaining additional funding, it said. AmeriCredit lowered its earnings estimates for its fiscal year ending in June by roughly $1 a share to a range of $1.35 to $1.55 from $2.30 to $2.50 previously. It projects full-year net income to be in the range of $170 million to $195 million, down from $295 million to $320 million. The earnings and profit estimates reflect AmeriCredit's projections of new loan origination volume of $6.5 billion to $7 billion for the year and credit losses of 5.7% to 6.2% of the loan portfolio, among other things. Analysts say that the company's cash flow will be increasingly under stress, particularly if market conditions deteriorate. Moody's cut its outlook but affirmed the company's debt ratings. "The change in outlook reflects the more challenging operating environment being faced by AmeriCredit, as well as other auto and consumer finance companies in the U.S.," Moody's said. "In particular, the negative outlook considers the effects of deteriorated credit performance in AmeriCredit's core subprime and near-prime receivables portfolios." "Moody's is concerned that downside risks to AmeriCredit's asset quality are increasing and could result in further pressure on the firm's profitability," it said. AmeriCredit is "also likely to face more challenging funding conditions in coming quarters, including the potential for decreased capacity from monoline insurers. This has potential ramifications for AmeriCredit's access -- and cost of access -- to the term asset-backed securities market, which historically has been a key funding source for the company."
Analysts expect Capital One to earn 63 cents a share for the fourth quarter. Observers will particularly watch for signs of slowing consumer spending at the McLean, Va.-based company, which has worked hard to expand beyond its credit card roots into banking and mortgages. Despite its foray into other financial services businesses, Capital One has been struggling as the credit crisis roils on. The lack of liquidity in the mortgage markets this summer forced Capital One to shut its wholesale mortgage arm, GreenPoint Mortgage, which it had just acquired in late 2006 with its purchase of North Fork Bank of Melville, N.Y. Shuttering the mortgage operations at GreenPoint forced the company to lay off close to 2,000 employees.