U.S. automobile sales may have continued at the fastest pace since 2009 in December, carrying the industry to its first annual increase since 2005.
Total sales, to be released tomorrow, probably ran at an annual rate of 12.3 million vehicles last month, the average of eight analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg. November and October sales hit the same pace, the fastest since the U.S. government’s “cash for clunkers” program in August 2009.
Full-year deliveries probably rebounded to about 11.5 million vehicles from 10.4 million in 2009, bolstering General Motors Co. (GM) on its way to the second-largest U.S. initial public offering and helping Ford Motor Co. (F) earn the most through three quarters since 1998. Toyota Motor Corp., hurt by more than 8 million recalls for unintended acceleration, fell behind Ford in U.S. sales for the first time since 2006.
“Consumers are now becoming more comfortable buying cars in an uncertain economic environment, which is a major change in buying patterns compared to a year ago,” Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry trends at TrueCar.com, said in a telephone interview. “We saw more of the same in terms of consumers’ eagerness to come back into the marketplace in December.”
Confidence (CONCCONF) among U.S. consumers climbed to a six-month high in December, the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan sentiment index showed on Dec. 23.
Sales for December and the year remained below the 16.8 million annual rate racked up before the recession, and unemployment forecast to stay above 9 percent will temper growth for the industry in 2011.
Analysts: Buy GM
GM may report a 4.3 percent increase, the average of four estimates for December, the month after the automaker sold $23.1 billion of common and preferred stock in an IPO. Analysts including Patrick Archambault of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in New York initiated coverage of the Detroit-based automaker since last week by recommending investors buy the shares.
“I don’t think the full potential for General Motors is really appreciated by investors yet,” said Dan Veru, co-chief investment officer at Palisade Capital Management LLC in Fort Lee, New Jersey, which oversees $3.1 billion and bought shares in GM’s IPO. “The company is without vestiges of the old GM, the product line has improved dramatically, and it’s an intriguing emerging-markets play with exposure in China.”
GM rose 20 cents to $37.06 at 4:15 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange trading. It has gained 12 percent since the IPO.
Ford Beats Toyota
Ford, which will reclaim from Toyota (7203) the No. 2 spot for U.S. sales that it held for 76 years until 2007, may say sales climbed 3.3 percent, according to five analysts’ estimates. The Dearborn, Michigan-based company began shipping the redesigned Explorer SUV during the month. Through November, Ford had sold 1.74 million light vehicles, 155,000 more than Toyota.
“Ford has been beating up on Toyota year-round,” Ivan Drury, an analyst at auto-shopping research site Edmunds.com, said in a telephone interview. “There’s really nothing that Ford is launching that you could say isn’t competitive or isn’t worth buying.”
Ford climbed 2.7 percent to $17.25 at 4:15 p.m., the highest closing price since June 2002.
Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, may report a 10 percent decline for December, the average estimate of three analysts. A decrease in December would be the third-straight month the Toyota City, Japan-based company’s deliveries declined. It may be the only large automaker to sell fewer vehicles in the U.S. last year than in 2009.
“The biggest worry for Toyota is they’re not taking advantage of the recovery in the market,” said Toprak, of Santa Monica-based TrueCar. He predicts an 11 percent decrease in Toyota deliveries. “They’re falling behind again in a month where all their competitors are up from last year. It just can’t be good for momentum, sales or morale.”
Chrysler Group LLC may have increased sales 9.3 percent, the average of four analysts’ estimates. The Auburn Hills, Michigan-based automaker kept its Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit open last week to meet demand for the Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV, a spokeswoman, Jodi Tinson, said on Dec. 21. The plant is normally closed during the Christmas holiday.
“A year ago, people were asking whether Chrysler would make it,” Barron Meade, a Chrysler dealer and chairman of Detroit’s North American International Auto Show, said in a Dec. 22 interview. “Somewhere along the way this year, people have stopped asking that question. Now, the question is how fast they’re going to come back.”
Deliveries at Tokyo-based Honda Motor Co. (7267) may have risen 7.2 percent, and Yokohama, Japan-based Nissan Motor Co.’s (7201) sales may have increased 20 percent, according to the average of three analysts’ estimates.
Sales of 11.5 million vehicles this year would be almost a third fewer than the 16.8 million annual average from 2000 to 2007, according to Autodata Corp. Deliveries in 2009 were the lowest since 1982, according to the Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey-based researcher.
“In 2010, economic and employment concerns kept many consumers out of dealerships and away from buying vehicles, but to a lesser degree than in 2009,” Efraim Levy, an equity analyst at Standard & Poor’s in New York, wrote in a Dec. 28 research note.
S&P expects industrywide deliveries will increase to 13 million in 2011, driven by light trucks, SUVs and luxury vehicles, Levy wrote.
“We have a high degree of confidence that 2011 is going to be a stronger sales year,” George Pipas, Ford’s sales analyst, said in a Dec. 20 briefing with reporters. “We’re a whole lot better off than we were a year ago.”
The following table shows estimates for car and light-truck sales in the U.S. Estimates for companies are a percentage change from December 2009. Forecasts for the seasonally adjusted annual rate, or SAAR, are in millions of vehicles.
December had 27 selling days, one fewer than a year earlier.
GM Ford Chrysler SAAR Brian Johnson 6.9% 2.3% 10.9% 12.3 (Barclays Capital) Himanshu Patel NA NA NA 12.3 (JPMorgan) Jesse Toprak 1.3% 3% 9.4% 12.1 (TrueCar.com) Joseph Barker NA NA NA 12.4 (IHS Automotive) Jessica Caldwell 11% 5.1% 13% 12.3 (Edmunds.com) Jeff Schuster NA NA NA 12.4 (J.D. Power) Christopher J. Ceraso -2% 1% 4% 12.3 (Credit Suisse) Patrick Archambault NA 5% NA 12.4 (Goldman Sachs) Average 4.3% 3.3% 9.3% 12.3
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