September U.S. auto sales seen down 0.8 percent: JD Power-LMC

September 26, 2016 11:04 AM EDT

Cars travel north towards Los Angeles on interstate highway 5 in San Diego, California February 10, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake

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By Bernie Woodall

DETROIT (Reuters) - September U.S. auto sales are forecast to drop nearly 1 percent from a year ago despite a record high for consumer discounts, J.D. Power and LMC Automotive said on Monday.

The two auto industry consultants said September U.S. new vehicle sales will be 1.43 million, down 0.8 percent from a year earlier. The seasonally adjusted annualized rate for September will be 17.7 million vehicles, down from 18 million on the same basis a year earlier.

Retail sales to consumers, which do not include multiple fleet sales to rental agencies, businesses and government, were seen declining 1.4 percent in September. It would be the fifth month in the past seven to show a retail sales decline, J.D. Power and LMC said.

Wall Street analysts have pressured shares of major U.S. automakers because they have expected the industry downturn that looks to be under way, albeit at near-record sales levels. A year ago, sales hit a record high of nearly 17.5 million vehicles, according to Autodata Corp.

LMC and J.D. Power on Monday maintained their 2016 sales forecast of 17.4 million vehicles.

As the market shrinks, automakers are hiking incentives to entice consumers to spend. September industry incentive spending is tracking at an average $3,923 per new vehicle sold, which would surpass the previous high from December 2008 of $3,753.

December 2008 was a time when the U.S. and global economies appeared to be in peril, and was the last month prior to the weakest year in U.S. auto sales since World War Two, adjusted for population growth.

Jeff Schuster, lead forecaster at LMC, said today's auto sales climate is much improved from December 2008, as shown by higher consumer confidence figures, a stronger stock market and higher vehicle sales prices, which cuts the ratio of incentives to vehicle cost.

New home sales, which usually correlate closely to pickup truck sales, fell 7.6 percent in August, the U.S. Commerce Department said on Monday.

Pickup truck and SUV sales accounted for 58.4 percent of U.S. auto sales in 2016 through August, compared with 54.4 percent in August 2015.

"The U.S. automotive market continues to show signs of little growth, yet in our opinion the numbers do not reflect a significant weakness or risk," said Schuster.

"The expectation remains for steady volume levels at the topline, despite a pullback in the retail market and increased monthly performance volatility."

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)

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