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Tickers in this Article: R, F, CAR, DTG, UHAL, HTZ
When times are tough economically, folks change their spending habits. And for companies that operate in the vehicle rental and lease businesses, those changes have amounted to a whirlwind of profits.

In the auto rental business, the results have been staggering. The uncertain future of GM, Chrysler and Ford (NYSE:F), along with an enduring and deep economic recession have sent car buyers to the rental agencies in droves.

IN PICTURES: Eight Ways To Survive A Market Downturn

Below, we highlight some of the best-performing stocks in this niche sector.

Second and Fifth Best Stocks YTD
Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group Inc. (NYSE:DTG) is a North American auto rental operation with 741 locations and a stock price that has risen relentlessly. DTG is up 2,315% since the new year - the second best performing stock in the Russell 3000 universe of stocks.

The company has cut costs aggressively since the recession began by closing down underperforming and non-profitable locations, and recently initiated an online auction process whereby retired vehicles can be more easily purchased by dealers.

The stock still only sells at a fraction of sales (price to sales is 0.34 times).

Avis Budget Group Inc. (NYSE:CAR) is another widely known brand in the car rental business. The company's stock places fifth in the Russell 3000 YTD race to profits, having risen over 1,500% since January 1.

Avis/Budget has a market cap in excess of $1 billion and a franchise that spans the globe, with over 7,000 locations and a fleet of over 424,000 vehicles.

The Biggest Name in Car Rentals
Hertz Global Holdings Inc. (NYSE:HTZ) is the biggest of the U.S. based car rental operators, with a market cap of $4.3 billion and 8,100 outlets in 145 countries. Hertz stock is up nearly 600% since bottoming last November. (For related reading, check out Analyzing Auto Stocks.)

The shares trade with a measly price/sales ratio of 0.57, and the company recently completed (ahead of schedule) its debt refinancing requirement for upgrades to its U.S. fleet.

Amerco (NYSE:UHAL) and Ryder (NYSE:R) also operate in the vehicle rental sector but with a twist. Amerco is engaged in the do-it-yourself moving and storage market, primarily through their U-Haul line of trucks and trailers. The company has over 15,000 outlets across North America, from which they also do an active market in moving accessories (boxes, tape, etc.). The shares are up over 100% since March.

Truck rental company Ryder is a $2.5 billion company by market cap, with shares that have also advanced by over 100% in the last half year, and it's also a component of the Dow Jones Transportation Average.

The Bottom Line
Global recessions and market turmoil don't affect all companies equally. In the car rental business, to be sure, great increases in stock prices have accompanied this bleary economy - to the extent that two of the top five performing stocks YTD are among the renters. (For further reading, see 4 Steps To Picking A Stock.)

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