Investors ignore sales outlook

DETROIT – Most major automakers on Wednesday reported lower December US sales and forecast weaker overall sales in 2018, but investors bid up shares in the sector on a bet that high-margin pickup trucks and SUVs will pull Detroit’s automakers through any downturn.

The December numbers were above analyst expectations, lifting the shares of General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV. According to Autodata Corp, which tracks industry sales, the seasonally adjusted annualised rate (SAAR) of US car and light truck sales in December fell to 17.9 million units from 18.2 million in December 2016.

Analysts polled by Reuters had predicted a SAAR for December of 17.5 million units.

Investors were pleased GM had cut its inventory of unsold vehicles ­— a concern for the industry earlier in 2017 ­— at the end of December to 63 days supply unsold vehicles, beating its target of about 70 days supply.

But GM said it expected the industry to sell less than 17 million new vehicles in 2018. According Autodata, 2017 full-year sales hit 17.23 million units, down nearly 2 per cent from an all-time US record of 17.55 million units in 2016.

Automakers’ challenges in 2018 include dealing with an ongoing shift in consumer preference away from passenger cars to more profitable pickup trucks and SUVs, and an influx of millions of nearly-new, off-lease vehicles that are cheaper than new vehicles.

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