US: Motor Vehicle Sales

Tue Nov 03 06:00:00 CST 2015

Consensus Consensus Range Actual Previous
Total Vehicle Sales 17.7M 17.2M to 18.1M 18.2M 18.2M
Domestic Vehicle Sales 14.1M 13.8M to 14.4M 14.5M 14.7M

Consumers really showed up in October, at least when it came to dealerships as vehicle sales held unchanged at an 18.2 million annual rate, a 12-year high and outside the Econoday top-end estimate. Import sales, specifically sales of imported light trucks, were the key to October, rising to a 3.7 million rate from 3.5 million and making up for a downtick in sales of North American-made vehicles which slipped to 14.5 from 14.7 million. Still, the 14.5 million rate is also outside the top-end estimate.

These data offer convincing evidence of consumer strength and pull forward, at least to a degree, the Fed's rate liftoff. But the results, because they do no better than match September, do not quite point to a third straight gain for the motor vehicle component of the October retail sales report.

Market Consensus Before Announcement
Vehicle sales have proven to be one of the year's biggest positives for the economy, lifting retail sales and helping the factory sector offset a decline in exports. But sales are expected to slow in October, to a 17.7 million annualized rate from September's 10-year high of 18.2 million. A decrease for sales, despite the prior strength, would lower estimates for household spending and in turn lower the chances of a December FOMC rate hike.

Unit sales of motor vehicles include domestic sales and foreign sales, otherwise referred to as imports. Domestics are sales of autos produced in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Imports are U.S. sales of vehicles produced elsewhere. These are for light vehicles which include all passenger cars and light trucks up to 14,000 pounds gross weight (including minivans and sport utility vehicles). Individual manufacturers usually report sales on the first business day of the month. One of the first tabulators of the data is Autodata Corporation. Motor vehicle sales are good indicators of trends in consumer spending and often are considered a leading indicator at business cycle turning points. One should note that manufacturers do not break out vehicle sales to businesses, which are a smaller but still significant percentage of the monthly total.

Since motor vehicle sales are an important element of consumer spending, market players watch this closely to get a handle on the direction of the economy. The pattern of consumption spending is one of the foremost influences on stock and bond markets. Strong economic growth translates to healthy corporate profits and higher stock prices. The bond market focus is on whether economic growth goes overboard and leads to inflation. Ideally, the economy walks that fine line between strong growth and excessive (inflationary) growth. This balance was achieved through much of the nineties. For this reason alone, investors in the stock and bond markets enjoyed huge gains during the bull market of the 1990s.

Retail sales growth did slow down in tandem with the equity market in 2000 and with the 2001 recession. A low interest rate environment through 2006 supported motor vehicle sales. But the credit crunch and recession led to a sharp drop in sales in 2008.

In a more specific sense, auto and truck sales show market conditions for auto makers and the slew of auto-related companies. These figures can influence particular stock prices and provide insight to investment opportunities in this industry. Given that most consumers borrow money to buy cars or trucks, sales also reflect confidence in current and future economic conditions.