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European car sales outlook boosted by vibe from Geneva

Neil Winton
Special to The Detroit News

As the dust settles on the 2015 Geneva Car Show, some investors are feeling a bit more bullish than others about sales prospects in Europe.

“The key message (coming out of Geneva) was a relatively buoyant one regarding Europe volumes,” said Barclays Equity Research analyst Kristina Church.

This perception isn’t shared by investment bank Morgan Stanley.

Before the show, consensus pointed to an anemic European sales gain of between two and four percent. Last year Western European sales grew 4.8 percent to 12.1 million.

Church now sees much better outcomes.

“Our own multi-regression models by country point to volumes growing 5.5 percent in 2015 – that’s roughly double what most market observers are predicting. This suggests growth is accelerating even before QE (Quantitative easing) begins,” Church said.

The European Central Bank has in late March started a program of effectively printing money to try and kick-start the ailing economy. The U.S. Federal Reserve implanted a similar plan.

But Europe’s economy is still failing to show strength after the long recession and unemployment remains high. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development expects eurozone growth of just 1.4 percent in 2015. That’s an improvement over the 0.7 percent for 2014, but it’s well below what Europe should be achieving.

Morgan Stanley doesn’t expect QE by the European Central bank to have much of an impact, not least because major auto manufacturers are already financing companies at well below one percent. Morgan Stanley was below consensus, but has raised its forecast a bit for European car sales to a 2.6 percent gain in 2015.

Barclays’ Church pointed out that since last October, Europe auto stocks have been the darling of the market, gaining 51 percent compared with the overall stock market’s gain of 21 percent.

“Fears about the crumbling emerging markets and a slowdown in China have largely been forgotten thanks to the prospect of a European recovery premised on the prospect of QE,” Church said.

Morgan Stanley is much more wary though, at least on the stock market, where it says sentiment has moved far ahead of reality.

“In reality, we still see little potential for record low interest rates to impact European consumer demand much from here. We believe investors have sharply overestimated the potential consensus (for increased profits). This suggests the risk-reward for European autos has deteriorated sharply,” said Morgan Stanley analyst Harald Hendrikse.