#denial

Harley’s horrible huffing contains plenty of puffing

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When companies won’t give guidance, we must find ways to see where we were relative to history to get a picture of the future. Harley-Davidson (HOG) makes a good case study. Coronavirus may be one factor but the company has already produced results that have undercut the worst levels experienced during the GFC. We have long criticised HOG for fuzzy maths under the disastrous leadership of the recently ousted CEO Matt Levatich.

While there are strictly no direct apples for apples comparisons on the timing of coronavirus and the GFC (the latter requiring no lockdown), we note the weakness in Q1 2020 unit sales in the chart above.

This is what the trend of Q2 looks like.

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If we assumed a similar slowdown for April and May then theoretically the company would comfortably breach the Q2 2009 unit sales level of 58,179 which is only 18.6% below the Q2 2019 level. Q1 2020 global sales fell by 17.7%, even though the company made a very misleading statement which we’ll get to in a moment.

One thing that struck us was the steadily rising value of quarterly inventory as a percentage of quarterly non-finance revenues since Q1 2014. While the former value is a balance sheet item and the latter P&L, Q1 is generally a period where new models are rolled out ahead of the busiest Q2 & Q3 seasons to ensure the distribution network can move metal.

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Shipments reflect this. The inventory metric drops off into Q2 although exhibits a similar type of trend to Q1. Given Q2 2009 was the beginning of the tough times post-GFC, will we see the high watermark breached or will the slowdown in production offset it? How badly are revenues affected such even flat inventories lead to a deterioration of this measure?

In Q4 2019, inventories to motorcycle revenues surged to 69.1%.

We note that Q1 2020 shipments equated to an inventory of 12,534 units (+29.0%YoY).

HDq2Inv

Here is where it gets interesting. By HOG’s own admission in the quarterly investor presentation pack (p.7), it noted that Q1 2020 US retail sales were on target to be one of ‘the strongest quarters in the last 6 years through to mid-March‘, until COVID. 6 years ago US Q1 unit sales hit 35,730 units. US sales in Q1 2020 ended up at 23,732.

By deduction,

In Q1 2014, over 90 days HOG shifted on average 397 bikes per day. (35,730/90 = 397)

In Q1 2020, over the 74 days to mid-March, HOG was moving on average 321 bikes per day. (23,732/74 = 320.7027).

If we assumed that HOG was to hit that magic target over the 16 days stolen by COVID19, it would have had to punch out 750 bikes a day. (11,998/16 = 749.875).

We would love to see the order book for these magical beasts that were waiting for a home…it would seem the sales and marketing department cherry-picked one strong day and multiplied it over the quarter to create such a questionable statement.

Here is a chart of motorcycle related revenue for Q1 since 2008. No wonder the shares have underperformed since 2014, even with a small fortune squandered on share buybacks.

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The Q2 revenue book doesn’t look too flash either if April is wiped out. At present 50% of dealers are shut since late March. Is the market prepared for a sub Q2 2009 print? The share price has rebounded strongly after the Q1 results even though there is no guidance to speak of.

HDq2Rev

But it gets worse. So poor has the Q3 season become for HOG that its unit sales have missed the Q3 2009 post-GFC low for seven out of the last 10 years. Are we to believe if the world is out of lockdown by Q3 that there will be a miraculous surge in new bike sales when unemployment is likely to remain at troubling levels potentially above that of GFC?

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HOG is a great example of a divine franchise. It wasted far too much money on share buybacks (now suspended) and sits with a credit rating just two notches above junk.

The annualised Q1 2020 loss experience for the finance business sit at 10-year highs even before it has been thumped by the coming turndown. People buy HOGs as a hobby, not transport. A purely discretionary purchase. We imagine that restoring household balance sheets will take precedence to stumping up serious coin for a Harley cruiser.

Sadly Levatich and his 2027 vision have not been consigned to the dustbin of history which is the only logical filing cabinet for it. Completely unrealistic, devoid of reality and totally in denial of the shifting sands in the global motorbike market.

The new “Rewire Plan” (p.5) while sketchy on detail (as it would with an interim CEO) is a reheat of Levatich’s plan. Sad.

In our view, the entire motorcycle industry needs a strong HOG. New management is a good start but it won’t help if they intend to convince investors that they were on course to shoot Q1 to its best level in 6 years with questionable math. How quickly can inventory be pared? What models will revive its fortunes?

HOG needs to get in touch with its core customer base the way Willie Davidson did after the dark days of AMF ownership. It needs to build products which hark back to its former glory rather answer questions in segments that no one is asking it to fill.

Indian, its rival of 100 years ago is killing it with the FTR1200. Indian’s parent company, Polaris Industries, posted a small single-digit increase for motorcycles in Q1 2020. Enough excuses HOG. You are running out of time and your retained earnings are 1/5th what they were 5 years ago!

Why is the market giving it the benefit of the doubt when the worst is still ahead?

HOG

Harley needs a crisis manager. Will the incoming CEO possess those skills?

Harley-Davidson- Delinquencies vs Denial

Harley-Davidson (HOG) announced 2Q figures overnight. Shares rallied 6.42% on the back of awful numbers in 1Q. In a nutshell:

Motorcycle revenue fell 6% vs 2Q 2018 and group operating income crashed 26%. US retail sales fell 8.0%. Operating margin fell from 16% to 12.6% in 2Q. 11% for 1H down from 14% in 1H 2018. Supposedly these were better than market expectations.

-Market share in 2Q 2019 down 1.8% to 46.6% in domestic market, and European market share at 8.8%, down 1.6%. No doubt Trump to blame for this.

-Volumes down 5.3% for 2Q and 6.5% for 1H

-Operating margin down. HOG expected 8-9% in 1Q. This has now been lowered to 6-7% in the 2Q statement for the full year.

– weak volume guidance unchanged at 217,000-220,000. This marks 5 years of straight volume declines.

– 30+ day delinquencies on finance up again to almost a 9 year 2Q high to 3.3% of the book. Note HOG in Q1 delinquencies at 3.73%.

– 2Q annualized loss experience up to an 8 year high to 1.82%

Never mind the company embarked on a $42.9m share buybacks in Q2 and $95.5m for the year so far. Happy days.

The company’s presentation pack still smacks of denials with all the mystical customers that aren’t being converted into new customers.

The much anticipated denial from Brussels has come

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Honestly, what planet are these Eurocrats on? While the FDP had no seats in the 2013 election because they missed the 5% threshold, in 2009 they had 93 seats. In 2017 they have around 78. While Verhofstadt is correct in pointing out that the two main parties do not provide any long term answers, failing to acknowledge the triumphant AfD carries all the same denial that we heard at the time of the Dutch election. As a reminder Wilders’ right wing Party for Freedom saw a 27% jump in seats. The two mainstream establishment parties – Rutte’s VVD (Liberal) Party saw a 23% fall in seats and the Dutch PvdA (Labour) Party bled 75% seats vs the 2012 election – showed yet more rejection of same old same old politics.

Yet as we know from the CM of March 16, 2017,

The German Foreign Ministry tweeted, “The Dutch have rejected the anti-European populist. Good for that. We need you for a strong Europe in 2017.” In what way have the people rejected Wilders? Rutte’s party lost a quarter of the seats they held.”

Keep it up Brussels. The people have yet again sent you a message but it seems it isn’t resonating inside the halls of the EU.

“You stink!” How the EU could learn from the same denial as musicians and journalists.

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“We miss you already.” Those words spoken by President of the European Council Donald Tusk ring deeper than mere sentiment. As much as the almost year long debate of preventing the triggering of Article 50, PM Theresa May has respected democracy. Whether the musings of Sir Bob Geldof, the legal challenges led by Gina Miller or paying attention to polls that showed some wanted to change their original Brexit decision, the UK is doing the right thing. If it is any consolation one can only hope that the EU understands that it is the problem. Was the EU such a no brainer club to be a part of the UK would happily stayed by the campfire singing kumbaya. Did the EU forget the Swiss recently handed back their decades long free pass to enter the EU?

I’ve worked in several organizations where management was in denial. I’m sure many of you have too. When faced with crisis, some managers choose to point to external factors rather than a lousy product offering that no longer matches the needs of the firm’s clients. It is no different in the world of music or journalism.

Musicians used to make a killing on selling albums but Napster opened people up to the idea that you could buy the one song you liked rather than splurge on a whole album which you didn’t. Customers were offered a service which enabled them to choose and they fell in love with the concept. Yet many artists howled at the injustice of no longer being able to live the life of self entitlement. Look at music today and how many artists end up doing stupid stunts to hog the limelight. As the CEO of Avex in Japan said, “Music has changed. Pikotaro’s Pineapple-Apple-Pen has been viewed 100s of millions of times. Ask yourself why?” It is hardly a reflection of musical talent of the likes of Mozart or The Beatles

Journalism is also guilty of denial. The internet has allowed readers to discriminate what they read. Is it any wonder that NYTimes “60% off limited time offer” continues on and that The Guardian has passed around the Guide Dog collection box to keep its product alive, ignoring the fact that it is the ‘poor content’ which attracts users unwilling to pay. Yes, The Guardian is now a charity. To turn the argument on its head, for all of the hatred hurled at Fox News, more people pay for it’s content than CNN and MSNBC combined. Put simply, if people value content they will pay for it.

So to the EU, it is time to realize your product stinks. You can’t forever snub your member states with the same old mentality and expect to thrive. Europe has had a checkered history, Cross a border and the language, culture, cuisine and way of life are vastly different, To try to tell these same people they are “one” is utter insanity. To preach ‘diversity’ is irrelevant. Diversity is about respecting difference yet the ideology essentially preaches there Should be none. Yet the EU is the very antithesis of equality. The EU is happy to sit by and bury Greece’s chance of recovery by imposing hardships until they cede their democracy to Brussels and accept a protectorate status, The founder of ‘democracy’ is forced at gunpoint to hand it over when it was indeed the EU that used Goldman Sachs to fiddle its finances to create cooked books that would allow entry. To threaten Austria that if it democratically elected a right wing President that the EU would remove voting rights. That Italians voted on a referendum as a way to oust a pro-EU prime minister rather than the actual question on the ballot paper. That for all the celebrations and clinking of crystal champagne flutes from the German Foreign Ministry at the Dutch election result failed to realize conservative parties trounced the left. The idea that Wilders was going to PM was never going to happen. Yet he won more seats. Rutte only managed to stem his losses by adopting Wilders-lite.

The reality of Brexit is now formal. It finally seals a promise. It is a message from Brits who have saved Europe countless times that they cannot be part of a group that won’t listen. That individual mistakes like Merkel’s open borders should be a German problem. Why should Hungarians, Brits or French be forced to take a share of the burden of a mistake made by one individual member state? If the EU had voted to do it in a democratic fashion one might have had some sympathy but this was a mistake and it is unfathomable that the EU seeks to appease Merkel for imposing misguided altruism on countries that don’t share her view. It is this type of action that seals the EU’s fate. The idea of one Europe is fantastic. The practical realities are anything but. President Tusk perhaps said more about the introspection that is well overdue in the hallways of Brussels.

Let’s be clear President Tusk, the British do not miss you.