GM’s stock price reached an all-time high this week after CEO Mary Barra gave a speech at the virtual version of CES. Her keynote address talked about GM’s commitment to EVs, and not for the first time. For once, Wall Street seems to like a legacy automaker.
Tesla’s rise and rise on the stock market has been covered to death; a less interesting but concurrent story has been the share prices of legacy automakers, almost all of which consistently make billions of dollars a year. For much of the last five years, for example, GM’s stock price has been stuck at around $30 per share. Ford, meanwhile has been hovering in the $10 range in that time, and Fiat Chrysler has jumped around more than both but has generally kept between $10 and $25.
Those numbers aren’t direct comparisons to one other, obviously, as they all have different numbers of outstanding shares. Still, the consistency in their values has been striking compared with Tesla’s rise, but also compared with the Nikolas of the world, which found it pretty easy to go public and rake money in.
Why would investors be so interested in startups with no profit and not Ford, which made $6.4 billion in 2019? One answer is that Wall Street prefers bright shiny new objects, Tesla being the brightest and shiniest among automakers. Another answer is that Tesla has inspired a lot of retail investing which, with websites like Robinhood, is easier and cheaper to do than ever. Another answer is that if you truly believe that electric cars are the future, then electric cars being only 2 to 3 percent of the global market right now means there is a vast potential for growth.
Which brings us back to GM, which is pivoting to EVs as hard as any legacy automaker. GM is making electric Cadillacs to compete with Tesla; it’s making the Bolt EUV to compete with the Volkswagen ID.4 and the Model Y; it’s making an electric van to compete with Ford E-Transit; and GM’s EV platform doesn’t sound half bad even if it’s a little late. And so I can see investors having a view of all of that and deciding that maybe GM has finally turned a corner.
Investors are also presumably pricing in the fact that Joe Biden will be president next week, and Joe Biden loves electric cars. Or, investors are throwing money at GM for entirely different reasons, because the other thing about the stock market is that if you know why people are investing in something and you know when they will stop investing in something, you should probably put some of your own skin in the game. There’s money to be made.
GM as of this writing is up to $51 per share, an all-time high.