As Yankees great Yogi Berra might say, it's getting late early.

The United Auto Workers (UAW) and the 'Detroit Three' auto makers find themselves in a race against time, with less than three days to negotiate a new labor contract. The stakes are high, as a failure to reach a deal would likely trigger a strike, resulting in heavy losses for workers, the auto makers, and the U.S. economy. While some progress has been made, investors remain cautious about the prospects of a resolution.

According to reports, the Union has moderated its wage increase demands to approximately 30% over the course of the proposed four-year contract. This marks a significant reduction from its previous demand of over 40%. The UAW has not yet provided any comments regarding its current negotiating positions.

This decrease in wage demands is indicative of some movement in the negotiations. Initially, the auto makers—Ford Motor (F), General Motors (GM), and Stellantis (STLA)—had proposed headline wage increases in the range of 10%. However, these figures have since been revised upwards by about 15%.

Assessing these proposals from an external perspective can be challenging, as there are other factors to consider, such as lump-sum payments, cost of living adjustments, and wage-tier changes.

Nevertheless, on the surface, the disparity between a 15% increase and the Union's reduced demand of 30% appears significant. This could explain why the stock prices of GM and Ford have not reacted positively to what would typically be regarded as good news. As of premarket trading on Tuesday, both stocks were down approximately 0.3%, while S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average futures showed similar declines at around 0.2%.

Stellantis Shares Show Resilience Amid Market Uncertainty

Shares of Stellantis, the Europe-based auto company, have maintained their stability in recent months, contrasting the decline seen in the shares of General Motors (GM) and Ford. While Stellantis shares are primarily held by Europeans and trade at a lower multiple of earnings, they do not always align with those of GM and Ford.

Over the past two months, Stellantis shares have remained nearly unchanged, while GM and Ford shares have experienced a decline of approximately 20%. This disparity is the result of investor caution regarding potential strikes within the auto industry. Investors are opting to wait and observe the outcome of these negotiations before making any significant moves.

Analysts on Wall Street have differing opinions regarding the potential impact of a strike. Some worry that higher labor costs could erode profitability, while others are more optimistic, considering wage increases as a natural outcome following years of high inflation. Both perspectives hold validity, leaving stocks stagnant as investors await resolution. Once a deal is finally reached, there is potential for an upswing in stock performance. The widespread desire for certainty is not solely centered around wage increases but also hinges on the timing of a finalized agreement.

Across the three major auto manufacturers - Stellantis, GM, and Ford - there are approximately 140,000 to 150,000 workers affiliated with the United Auto Workers (UAW) union. The estimated annual labor costs for these individuals amount to approximately $20 billion, as projected by the Federal Reserve. Consequently, even a conservative 15% increase in wages can result in an additional $3 billion expenditure throughout the contract's duration. While this figure may seem significant, it represents merely 1% of the combined North American sales for all three automakers or approximately 6% of Wall Street's predicted 2024 combined operating profit.

It is essential for investors to remain updated on these ongoing developments. The ability to accurately determine both the timing of the agreement and the extent of wage increases will assist investors in making informed decisions regarding their financial goals.

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