#Livewire

Harley’s horrible huffing contains plenty of puffing

HDQ1US

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.

HDUSQ2

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.

HDQ1Inv

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.

HSQ1rev

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?

HDq3US

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?

A gem on how to work our way out of the coming economic crisis

Image result for truck nitroglycerin movie

Jonathan Rochford of Narrow Road Capital has written a gem on the role of central banks in spawning this current crisis. An excerpt here:

The rapid and widespread sell-off over the last four weeks is a textbook systemic deleveraging. Whilst the culprits are many; hedge funds, risk parity strategies and investors using margin loans have all been caught out, the underlying cause is excessive leverage across the economy and particularly the financial system. The timing of the unwind and the economic damage from the Coronavirus wasn’t predictable, but such a highly leveraged system was like a truck loaded with nitroglycerin driving down a road dotted with landmines.

Frustratingly, this inevitable deleveraging was clearly predicted. Rather than act to reduce systemic risks central banks encouraged governments, businesses and investors to increase their risk tolerances and debt levels.

Naturally, it fits our own long-held view on central banks.

Jonathan adds some sensible actions which are contained in this link. The question remains whether governments will put principle ahead of expediency in the cleanup?

Long Way Up for Harley

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Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman are apparently planning to ride electric Harley-Davidson Livewire motorcycles from South America to Los Angeles. CM loved the first two series – even bought a BMW R1200GS Adventure in the knowledge of what the bike could do. CM rode to every prefecture in Japan on that bike which to date has been one of the fondest memories of living there 20 years. Experiencing different cultures and places that contrast the crowded cities of Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya.

The duo is looking to replicate the successful formula of ‘Long Way Round‘ (riding from London to NY) and its sequel ‘Long Way Down‘ (riding from John O’Groats to Cape Town). Unfortunately, the latest offering is unlikely to whip up the same cult status of the originals. Why?

The first two chapters focused on serious hardcore off-roading through the likes of Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Siberia and Africa with all manner of struggles, mishaps and adventures along the way. BMW’s GS series motorcycles did a roaring trade off the back of the success of this trip. It was beta tested to the extreme. It remains BMW’s best selling motorcycle even today.

Unfortunately, given the diabolical long term decline trend in unit sales at Harley-Davidson, it is unlikely that an electric bike with a limited range and next to no luggage carrying capability will make sense in resurrecting the former glories of Milwaukee’s divine franchise. Although it is in line with the rudderless board at H-D which CM has made reference to multiple times.

Harley is planning to launch an adventure bike to compete with the BMW GS, so why hasn’t it chosen that so the brand can promote capabilities which would bring far more attention to the brand’s new capabilities? Will it camp or just check into 5-star hotels with wall sockets?

Sorry, but a bulk of Harley owners want to be seen as leather-clad rebels, not soy latte sipping trendies. Harley-Davidson is probably one of the very few brands that customers are willing to tattoo to their bodies. That is brand power! Furthermore, the whole point of owning a Harley was to enable owners to hide in their mancaves looking and tinker for hours to get peace and quiet from the trouble and strife. Plugging in the Livewire to a wall socket is not the game-changer product Harley needs and will only force husbands to discuss for hours whether ivory or off-beige would be the best tile colour for the bathroom. It will be the worst decision of his life and force a trade-in to fossil-fuel power. 

Harley would be better off buying a scooter maker if it wants to go down the electric route. If Harley analysed its own history it would recall it tried to patent its distinctive sound. How soon it forgets.

The Long Way Up move looks like a massive marketing exercise whereby Ewan and Charley are getting a small fortune to promote a bike that won’t transform Harley in the slightest. CM understands Harley needs to totally revamp its approach to markets but electricity is as far removed from its core brand proposition as to beggar belief.

CM has always said that Harley needs to get back in touch and listen to its core customer base, the very thing Willie Davidson did in the dark days when Harley nearly went bust in the 1980s. That seminal but simple strategy by the founder’s grandson saved Harley.

Often the most sensible business strategies focus not around trying to be something they’re not but celebrating and embracing exactly what they are. Brands have spent a lifetime emulating Harley. Why channel a wonky Taiwanese white goods maker who dabbles in Uber Eats carrying commuter junk?