Auto dealers, like most business owners, are likely always curious about what their dealership might be worth. While there are many times they may want to know, there are various life events that make them need to know the value such as a transaction (including buy-sell), litigation, divorce, wealth-transfer, etc. While valuations tend to be performed infrequently around these events, dealers can evaluate their business and improve its value by understanding and focusing on the value drivers of their auto dealership and addressing them on a consistent basis. So, what are some of the value drivers of an auto dealership?
COVID-19 Causes Declines in Q1, but Executives Maintain Optimism Going Forward
Auto dealers stock prices declined in the first quarter of 2020 following the broader market trend. Though many dealers saw year-over-year gains in sales and earnings in the first two months of the year, earnings calls focused on the coronavirus pandemic. Volumes have fallen across the country, though executives pointed to recent positive trends. Downturns have muddied the M&A market, and some companies don’t plan to rehire everyone that has been let go. Many praised the support of OEMs including significant incentives such as 0% financing. With dealership doors shuttered, many executives touted their online presence, though there was not a consensus on digital’s long-term place in the market.
April Showers Bring May Flowers? High Optimism Following a Historically Low April SAAR
Proliferation of stay-at-home orders and adjusting to digital sales amid the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to April SAAR declining to the lowest seasonally adjusted national sales volumes in decades. Despite the decline, there are reasons to be optimistic about dealership sales going forward.
Litigation engagements are generally very complex, consisting of many moving parts. The analogy that comes to mind is the nostalgic game of Tetris. Like the game, many clients involved in auto dealer valuation disputes also experience anxiety and stress as problems begin to pile up.
We hope you never find yourself a party to a legal dispute; however, in this post, we offer words of wisdom based upon our experience working in these valuation-related disputes. We begin with seven topics, posed as questions, that have been points of contention or common issues that have arisen in recent litigation engagements. We’ve also added two questions to consider additional issues raised during the COVID-19 crisis.
Are we witnessing a revolution in the auto industry similar to that of Blockbuster and online streaming, or simply an evolution into more tech-savvy dealerships? The current COVID-19 pandemic has auto dealers scrambling to find ways to maintain sales as stay at home orders are keeping customers from the dealership. To move vehicles off the lot, dealerships have been pushed into a new era of online car sales. While many auto dealers have only somewhat dipped their toe into the digital space, they have now been pushed off the deep end.
Auto dealers are in a unique situation. While technically categorized as consumer “discretionary” items, many people rely on their cars to navigate their busy daily lives. With activity grinding to a halt amidst stay-at-home orders, cars are tipping more towards discretionary items (despite many dealerships being deemed essential businesses).
While more practical than other expensive purchases, like a designer handbag, automobiles become less of a priority when budgets are trimmed, particularly when people are staying at home. All told, this will likely lead consumers to delay their purchases of cars, particularly those who want to peruse their options by walking a lot and test driving various makes and models.
While other retail industries have fallen prey to the “Amazon effect,” auto dealers have avoided this fate because many consumers are not yet comfortable making such a significant investment without first getting behind the wheel. However, this means sales activity is even more adversely impacted by the current environment. Consumers with disposable income are more likely to spend it on other high-end items that require less personal inspection for style and feel before buying. As we’ll discuss, this is just one of the impacts the coronavirus is having on the auto industry.
When Might Things Return to Normal?
The term “24-hour news cycle” doesn’t do justice to the rate at which new information becomes available and is consumed by people trying to understand the significant impact COVID-19 is having on all of us. Stay-at-home orders have created a huge demand shock, which is particularly harmful to a largely service-based economy. In this post, we contextualize some of the fallout that has been experienced and try to answer the question “when will things return to normal?”.
Lessons for the Auto Dealer Industry
Auto dealers are a resilient, adaptable group by nature. It’s one of the reasons many have been able to survive economic hardships or sluggish industry conditions in the past. While we haven’t witnessed the unique totality of the conditions that are present today, auto dealers can adopt some of the principles from the Great Recession to try and mitigate the challenges during the survival mode portion that we currently face.
The valuation of automobile dealerships can be more complex than other valuations due to their unique financial statements, varying cost structures and profitability of departments, different terminology, and hybrid valuation methods.
This week we discuss the February SAAR