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Fall in Consumer Credit Reflected in February Auto Sales

April 13, 2010

Fear of the economy’s slow recovery, snow in the Eastern region of the country and a negative job report not only stalled February auto sales, but it also led to a three-month low in borrowing, according to the Federal Reserve’s February report.

Consumer borrowing fell by $11.5 billion, or 5.6 percent, in February after a $10.6 billion gain in January. Feeling the brunt of the decline was revolving credit, which fell by $9.5 billion after a $1.5 billion gain in January.

Non-revolving credit, which includes auto loans, fell by $2 billion after $9.1 billion gain in January.

Interest rates increased from 3.94 percent in January to 4.72 percent in February, the highest level since the first quarter 2009.

Loan terms continued to fall since December, dropping from 64 months in December 2009 to 62.5 months in February. The loan-to-value ratio also continued to decline, dropping from 90 percent in January to 89 percent in February.

The amount financed also continued its three-month decline, dropping from $30,598 in December 2009 and $29,379 in January to $28,040 in February.

Auto sales in February slowed to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 10.36 million from 10.8 million a month earlier, according to industry statistics. This was the same month that the economy lost 14,000 jobs, according to the Labor Department.

With the job picture improving in March, however, so did industry sales, which surged by almost 25 percent to a seven-month high. Industry insiders attributed the increase to aggressive incentive tactics, but this was also a month where the economy added 162,000 jobs, the Labor Department reported on April 2.

The release of the Federal Reserve’s March consumer credit statistics isn’t expected out until the first week of May. Stay tuned to F&I’s e-newsletter for that report.

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