UPDATE 1-AutoNation posts stronger-than-expected profit

Thu Apr 18, 2013 8:34am EDT

DETROIT, April 18 (Reuters) - AutoNation Inc, the largest U.S. auto dealer group, posted a stronger-than-expected profit on Thursday, its best quarterly result ever, on increased demand for both new and used cars.

The company also reaffirmed its forecast for U.S. industry new-vehicle sales this year in the mid-15 million range, which would be up from 14.5 million last year.

"As far as the American consumer, we see the bright spots - housing, energy, automotive, high tech," AutoNation Chief Executive Mike Jackson said in an interview.

"And we see the American consumer ready to move on. They're not transfixed or paralyzed by the soap opera in Washington. We're moving into the phase where this is a self-sustaining economic recovery."

Jackson sees "tepid growth" of 2 percent to 3 percent for the U.S. economy.

AutoNation's net income in the first quarter rose 14 percent to $83 million, or 67 cents a share, from $73 million, or 55 cents a share, a year earlier.

Earnings from continuing operations were 68 cents a share, 4 cents better than the average forecast of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Revenue rose 12 percent to almost $4.1 billion, above the $4.03 billion analysts had expected.

Retail new-vehicle unit sales rose 9 percent overall and 6 percent on a same-store basis, while used-vehicle unit sales increased 10 percent overall and 7 percent on a same-store basis.

AutoNation said its rebranding strategy, under which it is renaming its stores to the parent company's name, is about 30 percent done and will be completed in the second quarter.

The Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based company also said it has signed deals to buy a Honda and a Hyundai store in Phoenix and a Toyota store in Dallas. The deals, expected to close in the second quarter, will add about $250 million in combined annual revenue.

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