US: Motor Vehicle Sales

Thu Feb 01 06:00:00 CST 2018

Consensus Consensus Range Actual Previous
Total Vehicle Sales 17.3M 16.9M to 17.6M 17.2M 17.9M
Domestic Vehicle Sales 13.2M 13.1M to 13.7M 13.3M 14.0M

Very strong vehicle sales in the last part of last year may have stolen sales out of this year. Unit auto sales fell sharply to a 17.2 million annualized rate in January vs 17.9 million in December for the slowest showing since August. It was in September that the rate, driven by hurricane-replacement demand, spiked to 18.6 million which was followed by strength through year end. Today's result is a very clear negative for January retail sales where auto sales make up 1/5 of the total report. Domestic-made sales fell to a 13.3 million January rate from December's 14.0 million.

Market Consensus Before Announcement
Vehicle sales accelerated in December to a solid 17.9 million annualized rate which, outside of hurricane-related spikes in October and September, was among the best results of the last 2 years. January's consensus is for easing strength at a median 17.3 million overall with sales of domestic-made vehicles expected to come in at 13.2 million.

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.