If Stocks Slid Because of Weak Auto Sales Then the Market Got It Wrong (Update 1)

Updated to include Ford and GM stock performance on Tuesday.

DETROIT (TheStreet) -- Ford  (F) and GM (GM) shares were rising Tuesday, as investors perhaps took note that the automakers' January sales declines, which contributed to the market's slide on Monday, were primarily attributable to harsh winter weather.

Shortly before noon, Ford shares were up 28 cents to $14.82 and GM shares were up 52 cents to $35.77. 

"Cold weather in the Midwest and Northeast resulted in double-digit regional declines," wrote UBS analyst Colin Langan, in a note issued following the automakers' sales reports on Monday. "We see the January weakness as temporary."

Additionally, Deutsche Bank analyst Rod Lache wrote: "Sales were up double-digits in the Western region (which had no weather affect), but down double digits in the Midwest and Northeast and down mid-single digits in the remainder of the country."

Auto sales are a key economic indicator. Not only do they reflect major purchasing decisions by consumers, but also they are reported the day after the selling period ends and auto manufacturing is an important contributor to the economy.

It's "not as bad as it looks," wrote Goldman Sachs analyst Patrick Archambault in his report. He said the January seasonally adjusted annual sales rate was 15.2 million, below the consensus estimate of 15.7 million, but that weather and reduced fleet sales were the causes. Fleet sales fell by 200,000 vehicles or 27% "due to order timing and the disruption of some deliveries which we should also get back in subsequent months," he wrote.

The Detroit Three were particularly impacted by weather because "they have the strongest market shares in the Midwest and they are weakest on the West Coast," Lache wrote.

Chrysler was an exception. It sales rose 8%, while industry sales slipped 3%. GM sales were down 12%, while Ford and Toyota (TM) sales were both down 7%. On Monday, as the U.S. market fell, Ford shares lost 3%, while GM and Toyota shares lost 2%.

On Tuesday, Toyota reported that its net income increased by about 500% to 525.4 billion yen ($5 billion) because a weaker yen magnified the impact of foreign profits.

The auto industry continues to look for a fifth consecutive year of sales gains. GM said Monday that it "expects light vehicle sales for the year to be in a range of 16 million to 16.5 million units, which would be the industry's best year since 2007, when 16.2 million vehicles were sold." That takes auto sales back to pre-recession levels.

Langan has buy ratings on GM and Ford. Lache has a hold on Ford and a buy on GM, which he thinks will benefit from improved weather, new products and higher pricing at Ford as the new F-150 is introduced.

On the Ford sales call, economist Emily Kolinski-Morris discussed the January Purchasing Managers' Index, released Monday, which also contributed to the market's slide because it was down 5.2 points from the December reading of 57.

"New orders and production readings were down but the reports didn't note a number of comments from their participants that adverse weather had a negative impact on their business in January and also reflecting optimism about improving sales and business activity in the early part of 2014," Kolinski-Morris said.

She noted that new home sales, housing prices and housing starts continue to show positive trends. And she reiterated Ford's outlook that U.S. auto sales, including about 200,000 medium and heavy trucks, will be in the range of 16 million to 17 million units.

Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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