Why You Shouldn’t Believe All the GM Hype

General MotorsAfter a year of restructuring and bankruptcy protection, General Motors Corporation (NYSE/GM) rose from the dead on Thursday with so much anticipation and hype that it looked like a Hollywood debut, but it was far from that.

GM was issued at $33.00 and opened at $34.00. The stock traded as high as $35.99 in the morning, which kind of caught me by surprise, as the surge I expected never happened and was below what I expected given the anticipatory enthusiasm for the Initial Public Offering. Estimates had GM trading as high as $45.00. This may yet happen, but not on the first day.

My feeling is that the reason for the lackluster reception could be that the stock was initially priced below $29.00 and issued at $33.00. Based on the estimated earnings next year at just over $5.00 per share, GM would trade at just over seven times’ earnings based on a $33.00 share price. At $45.00, GM would be trading at around nine times its fiscal 2011 earnings per share (EPS), which is expensive versus U.S. rival Ford Motor Company (NYSE/F), trading at 8.1 times its fiscal 2011 EPS.

The U.S. will not be an easy market for GM, but what gives the company some attraction is its growing position in China’s massive auto sector. The latter remains strong, as China is the world’s largest auto market, with an estimated 16.5 million vehicles to be sold this year, according to the Chinese Industry Association. And with only about 41 in 1,000 Chinese owning a vehicle, according to some industry pundits, there is clearly ample room for growth, especially as the income levels continue to rise.

Foreign auto companies looking for growth are expanding in China. Big players include numerous non-Chinese companies. General Motors, a rising player in China, reported a 19.2% year-over-year rise in sales to 181,625 units in August, increasing its total for the January to August period to 1.57 million, up 41% year-over-year. To better show the significance of this, GM sold more vehicles in China (1.21 million) in the first half of 2010, compared to sales in the U.S. (1.08 million). GM predicts vehicle sales in excess of two million in 2010, up from 1.83 million vehicles in 2009.

So, while the GM story is encouraging in China, I continue to prefer the smaller Chinese auto-parts suppliers that provide parts and services to foreign and domestic automakers.

Chinese companies to take a look at include Brilliance China Automotive Holdings (OTCBB/BCAHY.PK), China Automotive Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ/CAAS), Wonder Auto Technology, Inc. (NASDAQ/WATG), SORL Auto Parts, Inc. (NASDAQ/SORL), and AutoChina International Limited (NASDAQ/AUTC).

Here are two examples out of this group.

Wonder Auto Technology operates through a number of subsidiaries that design and manufacture automotive electrical parts and suspension components. The company currently sells five different series and over 150 models of alternators, 70 models of starters, and various suspension-related parts, supplying a number of automakers, engine producers and auto-parts suppliers in China and abroad.

AutoChina is a company that has excellent growth opportunities and is a way to play the growth in China’s auto sector. What I like about AutoChina is its focus on the commercial-vehicle-leasing market in China, which is still somewhat in its infancy, with plenty of opportunities to grow. As Chinese corporations become used to the concept of company cars, I expect that growth could be staggering, and AutoChina may be in an ideal place to benefit from it.

Trade GM, but, longer-term, I prefer to stick my capital in the small-cap Chinese auto plays.