U.S. February auto sales jump, no sign of slowdown

Three Things to Watch in Auto Sales
Three Things to Watch in Auto Sales

U.S. auto sales in February showed no signs of decelerating as most major automakers on Tuesday posted big gains from a year ago despite fears of an eventual slowdown after a record 2015.

Ford Motor Co (F.N) sales rose 20 percent on the strength of SUV and crossover vehicles, which were up 28 percent from last February. F-Series pickup trucks, tops in U.S. sales for more than three decades, gained 10 percent.

Ford also did well in car sales, which jumped 19 percent, led by the compact Focus. Ford stock was up 2.7 percent at $12.85.

General Motors Co (GM.N) sales fell 1.5 percent. Sales would have been higher, it said, if it did not cut shipments to rental companies by 16,500, or 39 percent, from a year earlier. GM shares were down 0.8 percent at $29.20.

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"In addition to positive economic factors, February car sales got a boost from the Super Bowl, (the) Presidents Day (holiday) and beefed up dealer advertising," said Michelle Krebs, analyst with Autotrader.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCAU.N)(FCHA.MI) February U.S. auto sales rose 12 percent as the carmaker again showed strong Jeep SUV and Ram truck sales.

Sales for Jeep's six SUV models rose 23 percent, matching the gain for Ram pickup trucks, said Fiat Chrysler, No. 4 in U.S. auto sales, after No. 1 GM and No. 2 Ford and No. 3 Toyota.

Nissan Motor Co (7201.T) sales rose 10.5 percent despite a decline of 11 percent in its luxury brand, Infiniti. Nissan sales were up for cars as well as SUVs.

Analysts expected industry gains of between 7 to 9 percent from a year ago.

Forty-eight economists polled by Thomson Reuters, on average, expected annualized February U.S. sales to be 17.63 million vehicles. Last year, U.S. auto sales hit a record 17.4 million vehicles.

With the auto industry being cyclical, most analysts expect sales to eventually hit a plateau, then taper off. The sector has been on a roll since the 2008-2009 recession.

The first two months of 2016 have not shown many signs of a fall-off. January U.S. auto sales on an annualized basis were 17.46 million, according to WardsAuto data.

Nationwide, demand for SUVs and pickups has been boosted by low oil and gasoline prices as well as relatively easy consumer credit and a moderately growing overall economy.

Analysts expect Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T)(TM.N) to show a gain of about 6 percent. All gains are versus last February.

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