GM's (GM) stock rose on Jan. 11 at times by nearly 9% after it announced 2019 guidance at a New York analyst day. We had been modeling 2019 adjusted diluted EPS of $6.39, well above consensus of $5.86, because of GM's ability to keep realizing more scale and its fresh light truck offerings in the U.S., so the guidance results in only a $1 per share increase in our fair value estimate to $47. For 2019 GM expects adjusted automotive free cash flow, which excludes the Cruise autonomous vehicle business, of $4.5 billion-$6.0 billion, up from $3.4 billion in 2018 including a discretionary pension contribution. GM guides for adjusted diluted EPS of $6.50-$7.00, and we now model $6.54. The stock also reacted favorably to GM saying it will exceed its 2018 EPS guidance given on Oct. 31 of $5.80-$6.20. GM reports results on Feb. 6.
We have long argued GM has more economies of scale to realize as it consolidates manufacturing down to five global architectures next decade and builds up GM Financial. We also expected robust light truck contributions in 2019 from the new generation full-size pickups launched last August and new Cadillac crossovers such as the XT4 already out and the XT6 due this year. We were pleasantly surprised at GM's optimism for 2019 given macroeconomic uncertainty from U.S. autos being late in their cycle and tariff risk. Risks include whether GM's expectation of U.S. industry sales in the low 17 million unit range holds and headwinds from an SUV plant shutdown this year, but cost savings from the November restructuring announcement and fairly new crossovers are expected to more than offset these risks.
GM's 2019 annual dividend will again be held flat at $1.52 per share, which does not surprise us. We've long expected the dividend to be kept at a level that is sustainable in a recession, which means at times no growth. Buybacks will still be done within GM's existing framework of targeting $18 billion in automotive cash and reinvesting in the business.
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David Whiston, CFA, CPA, CFE does not own shares in any of the securities mentioned above. Find out about Morningstar's editorial policies.