The Kerrigan Index Drops to 2012 Levels as Auto Retailers Underperform in Wake of COVID-19

Written by:
Melanie Webber
mWEBB Communications
April 1, 2020

Crisis triggers a 47.9% decline from 52-week high in December; Kerrigan Advisors release additional insights into automotive retail ramifications

IRVINE, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Kerrigan Advisors, in the wake of the global economic shock caused by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), has released The Kerrigan Index™ as of March 31, 2020, which is comprised of the seven publicly-traded auto retailers. When taken in context with Kerrigan Advisors’ just-released 2019 Blue Sky Report®, the updated Kerrigan Index provides the firm’s initial view on the short-and-mid-term ramifications of the crisis on dealership valuations and the buy/sell market, as well as on 2021 trends and prospects.

Through Tuesday, March 31st, The Kerrigan Index reveals a devastating 37.7% decline for the month, more than triple that experienced by the S&P 500. Year-to-date, The Kerrigan Index is down 42.6%, and is currently 47.9% below its 52-week high, which was achieved in mid-December 2019, just three months ago. The Kerrigan Index™ is now trading at levels not seen since 2012.

“After an incredible year in 2019, it has been a roller coaster since news of COVID-19’s spread started to consume the industry,” said Erin Kerrigan, Founder and Managing Director of Kerrigan Advisors. “We had a strong start to 2020 but, not surprisingly, March has been a very challenging month for auto retailers. Our firm expects the buy/sell market to slow dramatically in the second quarter of 2020. Having said that, we believe private dealership values will not decline to the same degree we’re seeing public company values plummet.”

A special edition of The Kerrigan Index released on March 23rd highlighted that auto retail is primarily a private industry with the publics owning just 6% of dealerships. As such, while the publics’ valuations provide insight into valuation trends, they do not usually determine the market value of a private dealership. The Blue Sky Report noted that the publics represented only 5% of the buy/sell market in 2019.

“Car dealers have proven time and time again their ability to survive, even in the worst of times. We expect they will do so again, once this pandemic is under control. Those who are considering a sale will wait until the industry returns to a more normal state and the buy/sell market reactivates, likely in the second half of the year. In the meantime, we focus on health and hope for calm,” said Erin Kerrigan.

The Kerrigan Index also noted that while COVID-19 will undoubtedly force some distressed dealership sales, those sales are not considered benchmarks for industry valuations, as most dealers today have strong balance sheets and can patiently wait for the right time to go to market.

According to Kerrigan Advisors’ 2019 Blue Sky Report® , after a slow start in the first half of the year, the 2019 auto dealership buy/sell market had the most active second half on record leading to 233 completed transactions1 for the full year – the second highest number since 2014, and the sixth consecutive year of over 200 transactions. This was fueled by a high level of multi-dealership transactions and an increase in average dealership earnings and blue sky values.

“We are profoundly aware of dealer anxiety in the current crisis, but auto retail will bounce back much faster than many other sectors of retail. We just need to wade through this crisis, get to the other side, and then start rebuilding. Experienced dealers know the playbook,” said Ryan Kerrigan, Managing Director of Kerrigan Advisors.

“The business model is resilient because of its diversification with fixed operations and used vehicle revenue often sustaining losses in new vehicle sales. It is for this reason that buyer demand has recently been so high for dealerships. We anticipate demand will bounce back as we come out of this crisis,” said Ryan Kerrigan, Managing Director of Kerrigan Advisors.

The Kerrigan Index Highlights

The mid-March Kerrigan Index vividly details the altered state of the automotive retail industry as it grapples with state-wide lockdowns, uncertainty about the crisis, and the continuing economic freefall — albeit with optimism for the future. The special edition also examines the balance sheet strength of the seven public auto retailers, including CarMax, AutoNation, Penske Automotive Group, Lithia Motors, Group 1 Automotive, Asbury Automotive Group and Sonic Automotive, in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic and its economic aftermath that has rattled investors and sent stock prices plummeting.

Notable points include:

  • Major banks now predict a global recession (defined as two quarters of negative growth)
  • Goldman Sachs expects US GDP to decline by 24% in the second quarter of 2020 and 3.8% for the full year.
  • RBC Capital Markets now predict US auto sales will fall to 13.5 million vehicles, 20% below last year’s sales.
  • Buy/sell market is likely to be impacted through Q2 2020; expect a resurgence in the second half of 2020, with optimistic trends playing into 2021.
  • As a group, The Kerrigan Index component companies have a combined total debt (including floorplan)-to-equity ratio of 2.7x, and long-term debt-to-equity ratio of 0.7x. Historically, floor plan debt has not proven to be risky as long as operators stay “in trust”; as such, overall debt levels are reasonable and should provide ample resources to work through the financial challenges of the coming months.
  • Excluding CarMax’s $8.8 billion market capitalization, The Kerrigan Index’s new car retailers as of March 31st are now collectively valued at just over $9.3 billion. This compares to their collective value of $17 billion at the end of 2019.
  • For the month of March, Sonic Automotive posted the largest loss of 51.7%, followed by Group 1 Automotive (-48.1%), Penske Automotive Group (-39.2%), CarMax (-38.4%), Asbury Automotive Group (-37.8%), Lithia Motors (-31.3%) and AutoNation (-29.7%).

Kerrigan Advisors’ Long View

Over the long term, Kerrigan Advisors expects strength and stability in the buy/sell market, as evidenced by outside capital’s growing interest in auto retail. “We continue to speak with investors who are seeking investments in auto dealerships. These investors are keenly aware of how well auto retail performed coming out of the Great Recession and believe now is the time to invest as the industry consolidates and capitalizes on efficiencies from digital retailing,” continued Erin Kerrigan.

The 2019 Blue Sky Report® found that an increasing number of experienced operators are linking up with private equity sources to grow their dealership groups. The number of dealerships owned by Top 100 Dealership Groups backed by private equity capital has increased 123% since 2014. In 2020, Kerrigan Advisors believes this will continue as investors seek to buy on a downturn, knowing strong growth prospects are ahead.

“Now that we are in a more challenging time, we are hearing from more family offices, high net worth individuals and private equity firms,” said Ryan Kerrigan. “They believe valuations will be more attractive and, as a result, they will be more interested in buying dealerships; plus, they see a long runway of acquisitions ahead as the industry continues to consolidate and digitize”

The Blue Sky Report® by Kerrigan Advisors covers dealership M&A activity as well as franchise values, including analysis of all transaction activity and lays out the high, average and low blue sky multiples for each franchise in the luxury and non-luxury segments. The 2019 Annual Report also includes Kerrigan Advisors’ annual review of each franchise, discussing buyer demand, franchise profitability, product pipeline and sales expectations for 2020. For the 4th quarter of 2019, the following adjustments were made to Kerrigan Advisors’ Blue Sky Multiples:

  • Increased Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram (“CDJR”) blue sky multiple to 3.5 – 4.5
  • Lowered Buick, GMC’s blue sky multiple to 2.75 – 3.75
  • Lowered Infiniti’s blue sky multiple to 2.5 – 3.5
  • Initiated Lincoln’s blue sky multiple at 2.5 – 3.5

1 Source: The Banks Report, Kerrigan Advisors Analysis

About Kerrigan Advisors

Kerrigan Advisors is the premier sell-side advisor and thought partner to auto dealers nationwide. The firm advises the industry's leading dealership groups, enhancing value through the lifecycle of growing, operating and, when the time is right, selling their businesses. Kerrigan Advisors has represented some of auto retail's largest transactions and advised more of the largest dealership groups in the US than any other buy/sell firm in the industry. Led by a team of veteran industry experts with backgrounds in investment banking, private equity, accounting, finance and real estate, the firm does not take listings, rather they develop a customized approach for each client to achieve their personal and financial goals. In addition to Kerrigan Advisors' sell-side advisory and capital raising services, the firm also provides a suite of consulting services including growth strategy, market valuation assessments, capital allocation, transactional due diligence, open point proposals, operational improvement and real estate due diligence.

Kerrigan Advisors monitors conditions in the buy/sell market and publishes an in-depth analysis each quarter in The Blue Sky Report®, which includes Kerrigan Advisors' signature blue sky charts, multiples, and analysis for each franchise in the luxury and non-luxury segments.—To download a preview of the report, click here.—The firm also releases monthly The Kerrigan Index™ composed of the seven publicly traded auto retail companies with operations focused on the US market. The Kerrigan Auto Retail Index is designed to track dealership valuation trends, while also providing key insights into factors influencing auto retail.—To access The Kerrigan Index™, click here.—To read the—2023 Kerrigan OEM Survey, click here.—Kerrigan Advisors also is the co-author of NADA's Guide to Buying and Selling a Dealership.

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