* Auto sales to be reported on Friday, March 1
* Longest monthly streak of annualized sales of 15 mln since
* Robust pickup truck sales seen, helping U.S. automakers
By Bernie Woodall
DETROIT, Feb 26 U.S. auto sales in February were
expected to show a fourth straight month of seasonally adjusted
annualized sales above 15 million vehicles for the first time
since early 2008, a sign of a sustained recovery after the
Forty-one analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters forecast on
average a 4 percent rise in February sales, to an annualized
rate of 15.1 million vehicles. The forecasts ranged from 14.9
million to 15.75 million vehicles, on an annualized basis.
February sales will be reported by automakers in the U.S.
market on Friday. Auto sales each month are an early indicator
of the strength of consumer spending.
"Car sales are persevering despite economic factors on
people's minds like rising gas prices and the implementation of
the payroll tax," said Edmunds.com analyst Jessica Caldwell.
"Pent-up demand and widespread access to credit are keeping up
car sales momentum."
Americans are driving cars that are on average 11 years old,
the oldest fleet of cars ever on U.S. roads.
A four-month streak of auto sales above 15 million on an
annualized basis has not occurred since a streak of nearly 10
years was snapped in early 2008.
Auto sales began to tank in 2008 and by 2009 hit a 28-year
low of 10.4 million vehicles.
The expected 4 percent sales gain for February would be less
than that of recent year-on-year increases. Analysts say
previous sales gains were outsized due to occurring in an
earlier stage of the moderate recovery from the recession.
Consumer confidence picked up much more strongly than
expected in February as consumers shrugged off concerns over
this year's payroll tax increase, a private sector report showed
On the bullish side of forecasters, Jesse Toprak of
TrueCar.com forecast a 17 percent rise in February sales to an
annualized sales rate of 15.7 million vehicles.
Toprak said pent-up demand by small businesses buying
full-sized pickup trucks, despite rising gasoline prices, was
critical to the rising February sales and will remain a force
for strong sales throughout 2013.
The inventory of General Motors Co full-sized pickup
trucks will drop to 104 days of supply from the bloated 117 days
of supply at the end of January, Barclays forecast.
Pickup truck supply is seen as healthy closer to 80 days of
supply or less.
GM's pickup truck inventory levels is another sign that
February truck sales were strong, Barclays said.
Incentive spending was down 4 percent in February compared
to a year earlier, a key to higher profit margins for the
Manufacturers offer incentives on retail sales to consumers
to move slow-selling models. That increases sales but also cuts
into automaker profits.
Honda Motor Co dropped incentive spending 39
percent from the previous February, and Nissan Motor Co
spending fell 24 percent, TrueCar said.
Hiking incentive spending 19 percent in February were two
brands with the same South Korean corporate parent, Hyundai
Motor Co and Kia Motors Corp.