11 Great American Companies That Have Totally Lost Control of Their Narrative

Many great American companies have risen to become behemoths over the decades. Many of those great names also have fallen from grace. Sometimes after a company falls from grace, it almost doesn’t even matter to investors what a company says or does.

Investors love good stories. They love earnings. They love growth. They love dividends. And if those qualities aren’t quite there, investors at least want some stability. Sometimes companies become unstable enough that no one cares about their story any more. Even their actions become ignored after things get this bad. There is a common term used in the media for this: losing the narrative.

When companies lose their narrative they almost begin to be heard about, and almost never in a positive light, by everyone except for the company’s management. This is also when a company becomes a short seller’s dream.

Some companies that have lost their own narrative also become seen as value stocks. If a company’s management has lost its own narrative, there is almost no way that it can be valued well by the markets. Sadly, some companies never are able to shed that “value” proposition and they become value traps that sucker new investors into their shares and never generate any gains. And sometimes they even implode.

In July of 2017, the bull market was already well over eight years old. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500 and even the Nasdaq had each hit all-time highs. Still, many companies that have lost their narrative are posting weak earnings or their stocks are trading close to 52-week lows. Some of these are trading at multiyear lows, with shares down 60% or more from just a few years ago.

Some investors believe that some companies just cannot fix their woes due to tectonic shifts in their industries or because the companies just have too many problems. Sometimes it takes activist investors to press companies to save the day, but even the best activists can fall short.

24/7 Wall St. has featured 11 great American companies that have all lost their own narrative. They were great before, but not now — and that may be the case for months, years or perhaps forever. Bearish analysts, short sellers, media pundits and even competitors can all easily dismiss these companies, and the companies being targeted just cannot defend themselves.

Great old American companies such as Alcoa, Sears, Xerox, J.C. Penney and a slew of others have all been known stories of contraction and problems for years. These are well-known companies you see every day or every week, and they all have valuations that are still in the billions of dollars.

AutoZone: Even auto parts can’t escape Amazonian threats

AutoZone Inc. (NYSE: AZO) is not currently the largest retailer and distributer of auto replacement parts and accessories by market cap, but it is by measuring its annual sales of $10.6 billion in 2016. There has been endless growth here over the years, almost without a care of whether consumers were buying new cars or hanging on to their older ones during hard times. Now that Amazon is in the space, along with more online competition, the pressure has mounted. Wages also have been rising in many of the auto parts seller regions. More competitive pricing is great for consumers but it compresses margins.

The trading pattern seen in 2017 has wrecked what was one of the greatest non-technology growth stock stories of the past decade. Oddly enough, most investors have even discounted that sales and earnings are expected to keep growing at this company.

Shares of AutoZone were last seen trading at $504.00, with a consensus analyst price target of $661.41 and a 52-week range of $491.13 to $818.00. Over the past 52 weeks, the stock is down 35.5%. The company has a market cap of nearly $14 billion.

Bed Bath & Beyond: Sorry, to where?

Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. (NASDAQ: BBBY) sells all sorts of home goods for bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, utility rooms and just about any other room in your house. The retailer used to be able to do no wrong, and the death of Linens-n-Things was a huge win for the company. Then came Amazon and other online competition, and additional targeting by big-box retailers nibbling at its heels. Bed Bath & Beyond has actually managed to keep growing its sales ($12.2 billion in fiscal 2017), but its operating income keeps declining as selling general and administrative costs keep rising.

Bed Bath & Beyond peaked at about $80 a share at the end of 2013 and was above $75 in early 2015, but that was then. Now no investors appear willing to endorse its shrinking earnings, and the notion that this stock trades at seven times expected earnings seems to fall on deaf ears.

Shares of Bed Bath & Beyond were recently trading at $28.50, with a 52-week range of $28.13 to $48.83 and a consensus price target of $32.74. Over the past 52 weeks, the stock is down 33.7%. The market cap is $4 billion.

Chipotle Mexican Grill: Where Montezuma rules!

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. (NYSE: CMG) was the prize of the millennials in fast food and casual dining. After being spun off by McDonald’s more than a decade ago, the company grew and grew. Now it has about 2,200 stores, and in 2015 a wave of illnesses put a hurt on Chipotle’s brand. Same-store sales growth turned into contractions. And then when the company seemed poised to rekindle its growth, news broke in July that more illnesses struck — and a video of rodents inside another store did not help its image.

Credit Suisse recently suggested that Chipotle may have to curb its store growth and is likely to see declining same-store sales, and it warned that the company would be unlikely to raise prices as expected (hurting margins). The firm also handily lowered its earnings estimates for 2017 and 2018.

Chipotle shares were trading at $346.10. The 52-week trading range is $336.52 to $499.00, and the consensus price target is $422.12. Over the past year, the stock is down 17.4%. The company has a market cap of $9.7 billion.

Ford: How can you overcome peak auto?

Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) did great through the recession and the company succeeded under chief Alan Mulally, but his turnaround tenure was going to be a hard act to follow. Successor Mark Fields was fired in May of 2017 and was replaced by James Hackett as CEO.

It turns out that Wall Street is still (perhaps overly) enthralled with Elon Musk of Tesla, and rival General Motors has been paring down its geographies. One serious issue for Ford is that 2016 and 2017 may represent peak auto, with car loan terms getting ever longer, and a slew of cars coming off lease in the next 24 months may pressure new and used car prices alike.

Sometimes being valued at less than eight times earnings and having a 5% dividend just makes people yawn.

Ford shares were last seen at $11.30, with a consensus price target of $12.67 and a 52-week range of $10.67 to $13.99. The stock is down 16.8% of the past year. The market cap is $45 billion.

GE: Is it now General Eclectic?

General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) is on the verge of a new future. Or is it? Naming a new CEO after Jeff Immelt and then transitioning the chairman role hasn’t seemed to matter, and GE’s earnings reports still have enough parts that they are confusing. It seems that the market doesn’t want to hear GE’s strategy after expensive energy acquisitions, selling its appliances unit, selling off and spinning off financial assets, and selling its media unit. Has GE sold all of its noncore businesses too cheaply and been acquiring assets at prices that were too high?

GE’s balance sheet is so complex that most analysts and investors have a hard time explaining it. GE will now not deliver its new formal 2018 earnings guidance until November of 2017, but investors already assume that GE’s old $2.00 in earnings per share target is well out of reach for now. GE’s new CEO also will outline what the portfolio of GE companies will look like in November.