March 5, 2018 / 12:59 PM / 12 days ago

Trump auto tax threat hits BMW, Daimler

LONDON (Reuters) - Investors sold shares in BMW and Daimler on Monday after President Donald Trump said the U.S. may tax imports of European cars if the EU retaliates against his plan to impose tariffs on aluminium and steel.

The Mercedes star logo of an EQ concept car is pictured before the annual news conference of Daimler AG in Stuttgart, Germany, February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle /Files

The United States is a big buyer of coupes, sports cars and sedans made by the German premium carmakers, such as Daimler’s Mercedes S-Class and BMW’s 7 Series, and accounts for a big chunk of their global profits.

It is also a big manufacturing base for their bigger sport-utility vehicles including the Mercedes GLE and BMW X5, many of which are shipped to Asia and Europe.

This makes them especially vulnerable if Trump’s protectionist moves spark retaliation by the world’s other big trading blocs.

Daimler shares were already under pressure last week over fears that Trump’s planned steel tariffs would hit the profitability of its U.S. truckmaking business — trucks use more steel than cars.

“With the steel and aluminium ban we weren’t expecting a really big effect” on the carmakers, said one autos analyst. “This is a bit more serious.”

Daimler stock fell a further 0.5 percent on Monday, while BMW dropped 1.2 percent while European shares were up 0.7 percent on average.

The BMW booth displays the company logo at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. January 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Files

“At the moment, we presume that (Trump’s auto import tax threat) is merely sabre rattling,” Evercore analysts wrote in a note.

“However, were it to materialize into policy, under our coverage, the greatest financial impact would likely be at BMW, followed by VW and Daimler.”

The first analyst pointed out that, among German carmakers, BMW has the fewest favourable broker ratings so its shares were less likely than rivals to find buying support as their price falls.

U.S. President Donald Trump waves upon his arrival in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., March 2, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/Files

Volkswagen’s premium Audi brand makes cars for the U.S. market in Mexico, whose trade relationship with its rich northern neighbour is also increasingly uncertain.

But VW group’s U.S. earnings contribution, hit hard by its Dieselgate emissions scandal, is minimal.

“We believe that Porsche has a strong chance of pricing through any incremental duties, at least partially, and the U.S. is less material to Audi than its peers,” said Evercore analysts.

VW stock was up 0.4 percent while shares in VW group’s sportscar affiliate Porsche Automobil Holding were unchanged.

German carmakers said on Monday that a trade war between the United States and Europe “must be avoided at all costs”, expressing their profound concern after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to tax car imports.

Reporting by Tom Pfeiffer; additional reporting by Sylwia Lasek; Editing by Jon Boyle

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