Auto Shares Like Auto Shows

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DETROIT ( TheStreet) -- The Detroit Auto Show shines a spotlight on the auto industry, and on auto stocks.

The show opens Jan. 15, but the press preview, expected to attract about 5,000 journalists (including TheStreet) from around the world, will take place Monday and Tuesday. Additionally, an investor conference, attended by many industry analysts, is scheduled for Tuesday.

"The auto show has historically been an important touch point for how the companies are feeling about demand for the year, about how they see their fundamentals shaping up for the year," said ConvergEx Group strategist Nicholas Colas. "It focuses the market's attention dramatically, because every analyst and every investor sees every company for a week -- it's the whole industry in five calendar days."

Obviously, the auto industry at the moment is brimming with optimism. Every known forecaster expects 2011 sales to rise from their 2010 level, both in the U.S. and worldwide. Sales trends have been strong for months, as the U.S. auto industry completed one of the most dramatic years in its history. Light vehicle sales in 2010 totaled 11.6 million.

"In many respects, 2010 was one of Ford's ( F) best years ever," said analyst George Pipas, on the automaker's December sales call last week. "The year ahead holds such great promise," he added.

Colas said auto shares often get a boost from the auto show, but the impact could be muted this year because shares have risen dramatically after a half dozen analysts initiated coverage of GM ( GM) on Dec. 28. Investment companies that participated in the offering had to wait until 40 days after the Nov. 18 IPO to initiate coverage. Nearly every analyst had a buy rating.

The positive feelings generally continued as the companies reported December and full-year sales the following week. The December sales rate was the highest since the "cash for clunkers" surge in August 2009. Fourth quarter sales were the highest since the third quarter of 2008, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank.

Since Dec. 28, Ford shares have risen 7%, closing Friday at $18.27. GM shares have risen 10 % to $38.98. Toyota ( TM) has risen 5% to $82.52, and Honda ( HMC) has lost 1%, closing Friday at $39.16. On Monday, Ford was up 4 cents to $18.31; GM was down 8 cents to $38.90; Toyota was down 16 cents to $82.30; and Honda was down 4 cents to $39.07.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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