Monday, January 12, 2009

Have you seen how bad things are in car rental? Avis, Hertz, Dollar all down 80%+

The crash test dummy in this photo maybe smiling but the car rental industry has smashed into the recession/global financial crisis wall with such force that dramatic industry changes are inevitable. I usually spend my time ranting about airlines, hotels and online agents such that I often forget to watch other sectors like cruise and car.

I received an enormous shock yesterday when I was surfing around Yahoo! finance and decided to see how the Avis/Budget stock price was doing. I have soft spot for the Avis Budget Group Inc (CAR) stock ticker (to the extent you can ever have feelings for a stock ticker) for two reasons. Firstly because CAR is such as great ticker for a car rental company. Mainly though because it is the successor to the once public and once amalgamated Cendant Corporation. Back in Sept 2006 CAR took over from CD and Cendant was no more.

Anyway what I found was that Avis stock is now trading at less than $1, has a market cap of less than $85million and is on notice to be delisted from the New York Stock Exchange unless it can find a way to trade above a $1 per share. This is a company that has some 28,000 employees (after a cut of 2,200 in Dec last year) and at the time of the spin off in Sept 2006 had a stock value of nearly $20. The stock reached highs of $30 in mid 07. That said back in 2006 analysts were already saying that the company was in trouble. I have not been tracking enough to speak definitively but clearly the crash to a US recession straight after all of the pain and suffering of high gas prices and credit being squeezed has just been too much for this company.

It may not give the Avis execs much comfort but their competitors in car rental are also in terrible trouble. Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group (DTG) stocks are trading at less than $1.50 off a 52 week high of $27 and a two year high of $50 - only just staving off breaches of debt covenants. Unimaginable drops. Hertz (HTZ) - the market boss - seem to be holding steady at $6 off a 52 week high of $15.32. Standard & Poor's are expecting at least one of these players to disappear into bankruptcy - with Dollar Thirty their lead tip. The other big player is Enterprise - but they are private so I can't find word on how they are coping. [tips welcome]

The other side of the industry is the intermediaries and car dedicated meta-search players. The biggest global online car rental broker is the owned HolidayAutos. Travelocity has been a private company for a year and a half now so it has been very difficult to get any news on how parts of their business is performing. There was word last Sept on the turnover at Lastminute being in the region of Euro 2 billion per year but September was an age away in this crisis and there was not split out in the announcement for HolidayAutos. [tips welcome]. My thumb in the air guess is that intermediaries should be able to take advantage of this industry pain and secure fantastic rates and deals. Down here in Australia you would think that this could be good news for two of main car intermediaries, the meta-search provider and consolidator Vroomvroomvroom. More info on Oodles is here including a bio on long time BOOT commentator and Oodles MD Steve Sherlock. Smart Company have a profile on Vroom inc Founder/CEO Peter Thorton here.

If you thought the air and hotel industry was in trouble, then spare a moment of industry reflection and concern for our brothers and sisters in the car industry.

Thanks to anthena1970 for the photo over at flickr

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