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Carmakers to abandon '09 targets

2008-10-22 11:30

Gilles Castonguay and Blaise Robinson

MILAN/PARIS (Reuters) - Analysts expect European carmakers to abandon targets for this year and next as they struggle with falling demand and rising costs when they publish their quarterly numbers this week.

"Company targets are outdated," Credit Suisse analysts said in a report.

Although they have spoken in general terms about the crisis besetting their sector, Daimler, PSA Peugeot-Citroen, Renault and Fiat have declined to comment on their outlooks until they put out their numbers.

These four car makers will give an idea of what to expect from the rest of the sector later this month. Volkswagen publishes on Oct. 30.

The global financial crisis has not only decimated sales, but the tightening of credit markets has made it difficult for carmakers to finance their daily operations, let alone offer cheap loans to potential buyers.

In the first nine months of the year, car sales in Europe fell by 4.4% The pace of decline picked up in September, when European new vehicle registrations fell 8.2% year-on-year.

Carmakers have already taken action to combat the drop in demand - Fiat is shutting down plants temporarily and Nissan is cutting production at a plant in Spain.

The cash-strapped sector is also facing the additional cost of developing less-polluting cars to meet the strict emissions standards proposed by European authorities.

European leaders are considering giving auto makers financial assistance to make more fuel-efficient cars, after their US counterparts approved $25bn in low-interest loans for the three main carmakers on the other side of the Atlantic.

Auto stocks have been among the hardest hit this year. Renault has plunged 70%, far more than the 40% drop suffered by the DJ Stoxx sector index .

"If the credit crisis drags on, we could well go even lower than these current stock price levels," said Jeroen Brand, a senior investment manager at ING.

"There are better opportunities elsewhere in the market to put your money."

Volkswagen's stock has bucked the trend, mainly because of Porsche's plans to boost its VW stake to a majority.

Brand did not exclude the chance of consolidation as car makers sought to cut costs.

"Anything is possible nowadays, just look at what is going on among banks. We're seeing mergers that were unthinkable twelve or even six months ago."

In the United States, General Motors is pushing ahead with talks to buy Chrysler, according to sources briefed on the talks.

Of the four car makers to publish numbers this week, only Daimler and Fiat are coming out with full quarterly results, while PSA Peugeot-Citroen and Renault are giving sales figures.

Daimler, Fiat and Renault publish on Oct. 23, while PSA Peugeot-Citroen comes out with its numbers on Oct. 24.

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