Profit warnings are never pleasant but few are as comprehensively horrible as the one Daimler AG served up on Friday. If the German car giant’s intention was to convince the investment community that it doesn’t have a grip on its business or earnings forecasts, then well played. Mission accomplished.
Usually a warning that spans product recall costs, legal issues, production delays and weak demand might be excused as “kitchen-sinking” (getting all of your bad news out at once). Ola Kaellenius took over as chief executive from Dieter Zetsche in May and a change at the top is often a good moment to reset investor expectations.
But this is Daimler’s fourth profit warning in barely 12 months, and the last one came less than three weeks ago. It had already chucked out the kitchen sink; now’s it’s moved on to tearing out the plumbing.
On top of the problems disclosed by Daimler in the last warning, the company has now revealed several massive new burdens on earnings, which are related chiefly to the fallout from allegations of emissions tampering in diesel cars. I wrote before about the legal risks that Daimler faces.
The upshot is that the German giant made a 1.6 billion euro ($1.8 billion) operating loss in the second quarter and full-year profit is now expected to be “significantly” below last year’s. The Mercedes-Benz division will probably eke out a return on sales of just 4% this year (the midpoint of its expected range). For a premium auto manufacturer, that’s abysmal. The French mass-market carmaker Peugeot SA achieved double that recently.
Oddly, Daimler shares gave up less than 1 billion euros of market value on Friday, which suggests investors were expecting more bad news. Also, some of the new problems are one-offs. Still, the fall propelled Daimler’s dividend yield – the last dividend divided by the share price – toward 7%. That’s not a sign of faith from the markets.
Daimler distributed 40% of its net profit to shareholders last year, which means it paid out almost 3.5 billion euros. It’s reasonable to assume 2019’s net profit will be lower than last year and that the dividend will be too. The Bloomberg Dividend Forecast anticipates a payout of 2.65 euros a share, a cut of almost one-fifth. With Daimler’s cash flow under severe pressure, even that looks generous.
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Chris Bryant is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering industrial companies. He previously worked for the Financial Times.
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