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The Trouble With Toyota Hybrids


If it looks like a car and drives like a car...


Greetings from New York where, if I owned one, I'd be slamming my head on an environmentally friendly car for not being: A) Much Louder and B) Actually Active in my "Toyota (TM) is a short, General Motors (GM) and Ford (F) are just trading plays" idea from television last week.

Toyota beating Detroit to the hybrid craze is akin to Southwest's (LUV) fuel-hedging strategy. It's nice, as far as it goes, but it doesn't solve the underlying problem of the company being in an obviously ailing industry. By most accounts, Toyota is actually behind GM in the race for an electric car. I've been actively mocking the idea of electric cars as a lasting solution to our pollution problem. Even I admit the point is debatable. What I don't regard as debatable is the idea that incremental mileage improvements like hybrids are really going to change the world.

In a globalized world, Toyota is every bit as exposed to a tight consumer as anyone else. From where I'm sitting, Toyota's news today is only a small step towards its fate, and its stock chart regressing toward that of the Big Two (soon to be Big One and Half, based on Ford's last quarter). Toyota has a head-start in hybrids and less of an institutional drag factor than GM or Ford but, at the end of the day, it's just another car company. That's a bad thing.

  • Speaking of troubled industries; Verizon (VZ) is joining AT&T (T) by reporting "blow-out" earnings "well ahead of expectations" and spelunking towards a 52-week low anyway. At least traders pretended to want to buy AT&T's results for a day last week.

  • Disney (DIS) reports this week. Yes, I'm nervous about that fact. What am I going to do about those nerves? Find a hedge or shrink the Disney position. Considering something a long-term hold isn't the same thing as a personal fiscal suicide pact.

  • Apple (AAPL) continues to trade weak since reporting its own blow-out quarter and taking down estimates, as is its custom. For those who missed it, the NY Times ran an interesting, gutsy, insightful and vaguely familiar piece suggesting that Apple's secrecy regarding Steve Jobs' health was a disservice to shareholders.

  • With the Toyota miss, the Chinese FXI ETF (down 20.3% ytd) and most other global markets of any size trading like levered up versions of the U.S. for 2008, from where I'm sitting, it's about time to announce the official death of "Global Decoupling: 2007–2008". We'll bury it with proper honors in the graveyard of "This Time is Different."

  • Here's a little known fact for a Monday: The Chinese symbol for "crisis" is said to be the same as "opportunity." Curiously, the symbol for "Olympics" is the same as "debacle."

  • Earnings reports from opposite ends of the chicken and egg spectrum today. Cal-Maine (CALM), a producer of eggs, or "liquid" chickens, blew out earnings, opened on its highs and went down to flat for the day. Meanwhile, poultry maker Tyson (TSN) missed by a mile, blaming feed costs and opened at $14.50 before climbing a buck almost instantly. Make of it what you will beyond "Wow, tough market."

  • Finally, and on the topic of rollin' on over, fresh on the heels of getting FCC approval for a merger with competitor XMSR (XMSR), Sirius (SIRI) announced earnings and guidance which both seemed roughly in-line but largely pointlessly backward looking, under the circumstances. Adding to the circumstances, SIRI also announced the intention to raise $375 million via a stock offering. I have both SIRI and XM in two different cars. I love the products and have toyed with the idea of spec plays on SIRI in the past but that was before the FCC not only killed the companies' Christmas season last year but dragged the debate on through this summer. It makes me angry but "spite" is an even worse reason to be long stocks than "hope."
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Position in DIS.

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