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Goldman Sachs says the United Auto Workers strike is just one — and possibly the smallest — of three nasty “potholes” that US economic growth faces next quarter.
In a recent note (which you can read in full here!), the bank’s economists estimate that the largest drag on 4Q growth will come from the resumption of student-debt payments. They predict that will trim approximately 0.5 per cent off of the US’s 4Q annualised growth rate.
Quick reminder: All of the bank’s predictions are expressed as annualised rates, but they only reflect one quarter of GDP. (The UAW strike’s effects will technically start in 3Q, since it started Sept 15. And while student loans started accruing interest again in September, payments won’t be due until October.)
In any event, the next-biggest effect could be a government shutdown, if one occurs. GS expects a shutdown to shave 0.2 percentage points off of Q4’s growth for each week it continues.
And finally, the economists expect the UAW strike to weigh down Q4 growth by 0.05 to 0.1 percentage point for each week it continues.
These strike estimates are tricky, however, and not a great guide for what’s happening now.
Here’s why: GS says they assume auto production will fall to “roughly zero” at every company where workers go on strike. But the UAW has only gone on limited strike so far, with workers walking out of three factories. This has the benefit of helping them preserve their strike fund. It also makes it more difficult to come up with projections for economic impact.
While the UAW is striking at plants that assemble profitable vehicles, this walkout isn’t as “punitive” as it could be, argues John Murphy, Bank of America’s analyst covering auto manufacturers. In a Sept 15 note, he wrote that the affected factories:
. . . are all final assembly plants so far. This is less punitive than if the UAW had opted to strike key component plants (ie, engine or transmission plants). Nonetheless, the UAW is striking at assembly plants that produce some of the most profitable vehicles sold by the Detroit Three . . .
Given these specified plants, we estimate the daily cost of a strike for the companies in EBIT terms is about $16mm for General Motors, $20mm for Ford and $33mm for Stellantis. On a per share basis, the daily impact is around $0.01 for each company.
Murphy includes make-level details as well:
For GM, the UAW will strike at the Wentzville Assembly Center that builds the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon midsize trucks as well as the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana vans. At Ford, the UAW will strike at the Michigan Assembly Plant on the assembly and paint lines only. This plant makes the Ford Bronco and Ford Ranger. At Stellantis, the UAW is striking at the Toledo Assembly Complex in Toledo, OH that makes the Jeep Wrangler.
This list should be interesting to a much broader audience than gear heads — notably, we don’t see Ford’s F-series trucks on it.
Murphy expects the ultimate result will be a 25-per-cent to 30-per-cent increase in wages over the next four years.
Although there will be some volatility as production is taken down, it appears the ultimate increase in labour costs will probably be close to our expectations in January for a 25%-30% cumulative increase over four years . . . In isolation, this would be about a 400-500bp headwind to operating margins.
While that’s not great for automakers’ operating margins, it also isn’t expected to do much for inflation, which is the alleged macro trade-off for higher wages. In a Sept 12 note, Murphy downplays any potential economic effects of big UAW raises, or even a broader Union Girl Autumn across the labour force:
In our view, the resolution of the strike [would mean] little for the rest of the labour market. While there has been an uptick in work stoppages since the pandemic and several high profile labour negotiations, only 6% of private sector employment is represented by a union. Therefore, most of the workforce does not negotiate for wage increases through collective bargaining. Instead, we expect aggregate wage inflation to continue to moderate given the ongoing decline in the quits rate.
Solidarity . . . forever? [emoji shedding a single tear]