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European Financial Crisis Hits U.S. Automakers

May 10, 2012

The euphoria over the positive first quarter results from U.S.-based carmakers should be tempered by the recessionary situation in Europe, two Kelley Blue Book analysts warned. They believe the European crisis could be further exacerbated by this week’s election of Socialist candidate François Hollande as French president. 

“Hollande seems much less disposed than his predecessor to insist on so-called austerity measures in European governments, several of which are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy,” KBB analysts Jack Nerad and Alex Gutierrez wrote in a note to media today. “There seems to be a sense of denial across much of the European populace that increasingly high levels of government spending are unsustainable and potentially disastrous.

The two analysts said that without a solution to the economic ills of several European countries — and the continuing threat that the deep recession presents to the viability of the European Union and the Euro — there is little likelihood of a strong European recovery. And without such a recovery, they continued, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler will continued to be hobbled even as their results in the U.S. show improvement.

“The Big 3 have been hammered hard by the ongoing European recession, most notably by the 7 percent year-over-year sales decline through the first quarter of this year,” the two analysts wrote. “In just the first quarter, Ford sustained a $149 million dollar loss on European operations while GM lost twice that amount. The losses are expected to stockpile due to a production problem that has been building for some time. 

“Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Chrysler and Fiat, has estimated that production may need to be reduced by as much as 20 percent to better accommodate current demand.”

Reducing production capacity won’t be easy, they wrote, as there are numerous political challenges associated with factory closures in Europe, due, in large part, to the more than 2.3 million people employed by the auto industry and local governments strong support for labor unions. “Similar to the U.S., workers must be paid even if production is idled leading to wasted capital in the worst case, and overproduction necessitating heavy incentive spending in the best case,” wrote KBB’s analysts.

“Something will need to happen soon,” they added. “Even though things in the U.S. are looking up, American auto manufacturers can ill afford to continue hemorrhaging money in Europe.”

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