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The public dealerships are buying — and selling

The past year has been an opportune time to sell a dealership for peak value. It appears the public retailers -- typically an acquisitive bunch -- have felt that way, too.

In the first half of 2016, the public dealership groups sold nearly as many dealerships as they acquired, according to "The Blue Sky Report," a quarterly publication by dealership buy-sell adviser Erin Kerrigan. 

During that period, the public groups sold 14 dealerships and acquired 15. That compares with just five divestitures during the first half of 2015. 

"With private valuations in many cases exceeding the publics', some of the public companies are now taking advantage of this market dynamic and selling certain franchises," Kerrigan said in her report. 

As their stock values fell early this year, the public retailers increasingly turned to stock buybacks as a way to use capital. 

Asbury Automotive Group Inc. is a good example. While Asbury continues to look for store acquisition opportunities, it also repurchased $160 million in stock during the first half of the year. Asbury also has divested some stores in the last year.

The timing was good, Asbury CEO Craig Monaghan said. "We felt we got very attractive prices," he said last month. "And with our stock trading at a bit of a discount that it's been trading at, we think making that trade-off to sell those stores and buy back our stock was a great move for us."

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