Today's edition of the Saxo Morning Call features the SaxoStrats team discussing the continuing weakness of the US dollar as commodity prices recover ground and in the wake of key US equity indices hitting all-time highs Thursday.
Article / 22 September 2015 at 8:34 GMT

What's next for scandal-ridden Volkswagen?

Head of Equity Strategy / Saxo Bank
  • Volkswagen shares lose 22% on US diesel imbroglio
  • Global scale of VW's legal liability not yet known
  • Scandal-driven stock collapses usually mean-revert higher

By Peter Garnry

It has been a volatile year for Volkswagen. The German carmaker started the year like a rocket fueled by the European Central Bank's new quantitative easing programme to lower the EUR exchange rate and assure continued credit growth. 

Following the peak in March, continuous bad news from China and slowing economies set in motion a massive decline in the share price ending with a big splash yesterday with shares down as much as 22% following the revelation that Volkswagen's US business had cheated US regulators on how much emission its diesel vehicles produce. 

Including today's declines, around $19 billion in market value has been erased and it certainly begs the question of what is likely to happen.

Volkswagen share price in 2015:
Volkswagen share price
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Source: Saxo Bank

Massive uncertainty

Normally when a scandal hits, the stock price recovers quickly as traders overreact to news. A good example is Standard Chartered on August 7, 2012 when the share price fell as much as 26% intraday on news that the bank had helped the Iranian government to cover up $250 billlion in illegal transactions

A few weeks later, the bank settled with US regulators and was fined $340 million. As the chart below shows, the share price jumped back to new highs by year-end.

Standard Chartered share price (second half 2012):
Standard Chartered share price 2012
Source: Saxo Bank 

So why are buyers not coming to the table in droves when it comes to Volkswagen? The uncertainty is simply much greater and there is no precedent in this case. With Standard Chartered, analysts had a reasonable idea within a few weeks how big the fine could be. 

If an automaker violates the Clean Air Act it costs $37,500 per vehicle. Given the number of sold diesel cars, this brings the potential fine to $20 billion. However news out this morning states that other governments such as Australia will now look into the matter and see if their emission standards have been violated by Volkswagen. 

In plain language, this may not be an isolated case so the tail risk is just much bigger.

In the worst-case scenario, Volkswagen will be banned from selling diesel vehicles in the US for a certain period such as BNP Paribas was banned from conducting certain USD transactions for a year, on top of a $9 billion fine due to the French bank's involvement in helping Sudan, Cuba and Iran perform said transactions. 

The point here is that US regulators are not shy to send a strong signal to companies when they violate the rules. It is in this light that the large declines should be viewed.

What should traders do?

It seems unlikely that US regulators would fine Volkswagen to the tune of $20 billion. The German automaker gets 13.6% of its revenue from North America which means probably around 10-12% from the US. Assuming a pro rata share on profits, Volkswagen makes around €1.1-1.3 billion in profits from its US business. 

It would be unheard of to fine a company so disproportionately to its annual profits. As such, it looks like an overreaction in the share price.

What normally happens in these events (short-term) is that mean-reversion strategies kick in and begin buying shares. However, if the selling pressure is too big from long-term investors and short sellers then stops are hit and mean reversion strategies withdraw again quickly. 

It is simply not worth it in the short term to supply liquidity. 

In little more than a week we are rolling into October and then thousands of longer term quant-driven equity funds will be crunching the numbers. A company like Volkswagen will likely shift into being a very attractive value stock given that no databases will have updated earnings forecasts for FY'16. 

As these quant-driven equity funds often have hundreds of positions they do not care about the firm-specific risk tied to this event. As a result, their computer programs will kick in and begin buying Volkswagen shares.

For the next couple of days the share price will wobble as the flow of sellers and buyers arrive at the table. Short-term, it looks like the mean reversion strategies are pulling away and thus only market-makers stand as last defense but they are only providing brief liquidity before flipping the shares. It could take a week for the stock price to settle as the longer term quant-driven equity funds get into action. 

But opportunities on the upside will occur, but it requires good timing. We stay on the sideline for now as we already have German carmaker exposure through BMW.

An uphill battle: Can Volkswagen recover from its US diesel scandal over the coming days 
and weeks, or are VW shares down for the longer term? Photo: iStock

— Edited by Michael McKenna

Peter Garnry is head of equities strategy at Saxo Bank.
Peter Garnry Peter Garnry
The decline continues with VW commenting on the scandal...
Peter Garnry Peter Garnry
Source: Bloomberg News
Peter Garnry Peter Garnry
So VW's initial provision is €6.5B which is a third of the market value currently destroyed since the scandal broke. Given the market's reaction it is clear that it does believe it to be enough.
Peter Garnry Peter Garnry
As you have noticed we closed our long BMW position over an hour ago as we do feel comfortable. WSJ has tweetet that officals want extend the probe to the entire auto industry to investigate whether this is an isolated case or not.
Peter Garnry Peter Garnry
The upheaval over emission output is the best thing that could have happened to Tesla...


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