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Harley-Davidson may be out of options other than moving some production overseas: Analyst

Key Points
  • On Monday, American motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson said it would move some production overseas in order to avoid the EU's retaliatory tariffs.
  • President Donald Trump quickly showed his dismay on Twitter.
  • But some analysts say the iconic motorcycle company, faced with declining sales and rising costs, may have no other options.
Could tariffs send more businesses overseas?
Could tariffs send more businesses overseas?

The iconic motorcycle company Harley-Davidson is running out of options on how to respond to a mix of declining sales and potentially devastating tariffs, Jaime Katz, senior equity analyst at Morningstar, told CNBC. She said moving some of its operations overseas may be the logical solution.

“In order to fail to alienate their consumers overseas, keeping that price steady and bringing good innovative products that are manufactured at a competitive price is part of that equation," Katz said Tuesday on "Closing Bell."

On Monday, the Milwaukee-based motorcycle company announced it was moving some of its production overseas in order to avoid the EU's retaliatory tariffs.

The European Union has said it will implement tariffs — up to 31 percent from 6 percent — on goods imported from the U.S. in response to President Donald Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs.

That means about $2,200 would be tacked on to each Harley-Davidson price tag in Europe. The bikes can cost as much as $40,000 — a price point that is already out of reach for many.

In a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing on Monday, the company estimated that the current trade dispute will cost them between $90 million and $100 million this year.

Shares of Harley-Davidson dropped after the news.

Trump quickly responded, saying the move overseas was "an excuse" and pointed out that the company said it would move operations to Thailand in May 2017, long before he announced his tariffs.

"I don’t like that, because I’ve been very good to Harley-Davidson," Trump said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Earlier that same day, Trump said in a tweet, "A Harley-Davidson should never be built in another country-never!"


“I think the people that ride Harleys are not happy with Harley-Davidson," Trump said at the press conference, implying that sales of the iconic American brand have declined because the company has taken up shop abroad.

But, the company has struggled in recent years to attract American riders, since its core demographic, baby boomers, has been aging out. Harley-Davidson motorcycles are no longer considered cool by many young people. And the prices are too high for others.

Meanwhile, sales of Japanese bikes such as Yamaha, Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki, as well as Swedish motorcycles, have risen. So has the number of motorcycle riders in recent years.

In an effort to remain relevant, Harley has set its sights on international markets, including parts of Europe and Asia. In 2017, Harley sold nearly 40,000 motorcycles, or 16 percent of its overall sales, in Europe — its biggest market outside of the U.S.

The company also has manufacturing plants in Brazil, India and Australia.

Harley Davidson bikers
Christophe Simon | AFP | Getty Images

“The president seems to actually think that costs are not a real thing. But it is," Veronique De Rugy, a senior research fellow at The Mercatus Center at George Mason University, said Tuesday on "Closing Bell."

"When you impose tariffs ... you’re going to have American consumers hurt, but you’re also going to have American businesses who have to make tough choices," she said.

In another tweet on Tuesday, the president seemed to imply that Harley-Davidson would be punished if the company moved operations overseas.

"If they move, watch, it will be the beginning of the end - they surrendered, they quit! The Aura will be gone and they will be taxed like never before!" he wrote on Twitter.

But Katz said she doesn't think that's the intention of Harley — to make products overseas and then ship them back to the U.S. Rather, moving operations would be a way to keep costs down for products being shipped to other countries.

"I think this tax situation, or this tariff situation, has created this dead-weight-loss situation," she said, "where you have to produce where there’s this competitive advantage to do so."

"Incrementally, it's very hard to implement and punish [Harley-Davidson] with [more taxes] at this point," Katz said.

WATCH: Harley-Davidson is moving some production overseas

Harley Davidson moving production overseas
Harley Davidson moving production overseas