AKRON (Jan. 22, 2004) — Goodyear's stock Jan. 21 closed above $10 for the first time in more than a year following an analyst's upgrade pending the anticipated Feb. 6 launch of a new tire line.
The Akron-based tire maker's stock hit $10.74, up from $9.51 Jan. 20, after Saul Ludwig of McDonald Investments Inc. in Cleveland upgraded Goodyear from “underweight” to “hold.” In his report, Mr. Ludwig said he made the adjustment because of recent positive indicators that have pushed the scales back to neutral. Among those, the analyst cited improved dealer relations, improved market share of branded tires, a surging truck tire business and the possibility Goodyear will refinance its debt.
A major nugget of potential, however, is the coming product launch during Goodyear's dealer meeting in Orlando, Fla. Mr. Ludwig said he has learned the new tire line, dubbed Assurance, will be a high-end, all-season tire.
“In our opinion, this is (Goodyear's) most important product launch in the last 10 years,” he wrote. “We believe the Aquatred line will be phased out, and the Assurance will be its new, high-end tire for the consumer market.”
Goodyear declined to comment on the tire in advance of its launch, saying only that Goodyear is always working on new products. In an advertisement in the Jan. 5 issue of Tire Business, Goodyear touted the all-weather, all-road capabilities of the product. “In fact, on Feb. 6, 2004, it will be a new day for drivers everywhere,” the ad said. “You have our assurance.”
Despite the potential windfall from the new tire, Mr. Ludwig noted that competition remains fierce. Bridgestone/Firestone's recovery is surging, and its dealer network is the “strongest in the country,” he wrote. Michelin remains the “clear preference of the upscale consumer,” and Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. has made significant gains in the private brand business where Goodyear has said it has lost share. Other tire makers have surged in the original equipment business.
Still, Mr. Ludwig said he expects Goodyear will be able to raise money to avoid a cash crunch, and its underperforming North American Tire unit could cross the breakeven mark by the second quarter of this year and begin a march toward a 5-percent margin possibly in 2006.
“Many, but certainly not all, Goodyear/Dunlop dealers are saying some better things about (Goodyear) these days,” he wrote. “There is clearly a new attitude emerging that the dealers want (Goodyear) to succeed in its turnaround and as such, support is building for this underdog.”