- 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:
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Source: Saxo Bank
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):
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.