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CNW: Supply Shortages, Jittery Consumers Point to Rough Summer

May 17, 2011

Several indicators in the opening days of May point to a dimming outlook for new-vehicle sales, CNW reported in the May edition of its Retail Automotive Summary.

Floor traffic did climb by more than 9 percent during the first 10 days of May, but traffic was tracking well below what was seen last year during the same period. More importantly, closing ratios dipped for the first time since last September, falling by six percent from April and more than 3 percent from a year ago.

“While it’s too early to make any dire forecasts, these issues are worrisome and previously have been followed by slower-than-expected retail and commercial auto deliveries,” wrote CNW’s Art Spinella.

Spinella linked closing ratios to a supply shortage of some major Japanese-branded products, which he said has caused Honda and Toyota shoppers to put off vehicle purchases. Closing ratios for non-Japanese stores have also contracted, with the exception of Ford and Hyundai-Kia stores.

“A secondary reason, according to shopper surveys, is that without high incentive levels, many consumers who are looking for a new vehicle simply can’t afford to make the purchase,” wrote Spinella. “Lack of down-payment cash is the prime issue.”

CNW’s Jitter Index, which measures concerns about home-centric issues ranging from gap prices and job stability to food prices, experienced a 1.7 percent month-to-month increase, with every major category except “Child’s Education” registering a marked increase. This was the first month-to-month increase since last October. When compared to May 2010, increases were significant for gap prices, job stability, day-to-day needs and food prices.

Adding to the concern, CNW’s 10-day measurement of Consumer Confidence among new-car intenders fell for the first time this year during the final days of April and continued to contract in the opening 10 days of May.

“Initial reports for the second 10-day period look as if it will slip again,” Spinella stated.

The good news is that auto finance has found its stride. According to CNW, the average FICO score of those who purchased a new vehicle in the first 11 days of May fell to 669.8. Additionally, the share of new-car buyers with FICO scores under 670 hit 14.5 percent, the highest since March of 2006. Still, Spinella said the industry could be in for a rough summer.

“Because the data is short-term, delayed reaction indicators, there will likely be limited impact on May sales, which should hit 1.26 million units this month,” wrote Spinella, who predicted that the delivery rate for May will come in at 12.96 million. “The concern is for the June through August summer selling season. A shortage of key Japanese products, shrinking used-car supplies and lower incentives could keep the industry from a 13 million-unit year."

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