Beige Book: Many Dealers Show Stable, Improved Sales
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Dealers throughout most of the 12 Federal Reserve Districts saw their sales either climb moderately or remain static in the last month, though some remained challenged by the current climate, according to the latest Beige Book report.
Specifically, the auto markets in the Kansas City and Richmond Districts were softer, but sales were steady or jumped modestly for some dealers in the Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland and Philadelphia Districts.
Meanwhile, dealers in the Dallas, Minneapolis, New York and San Francisco Districts reported either stable sales or varied results from state to state, according to the Fed.
Additionally, there were reports of difficulties in finding floor plan financing in the Cleveland and New York Districts, while some Kansas City dealers struggled to get customers financed.
However, dealers in the Philadelphia region said their sales were helped by an ease in financing.
The report then examined how dealers across the 12 Districts are faring in the current auto environment.
Beginning with the First District, there was no auto-specific information offered, but business contacts in the region said that activity has been improving over the last few months and retailers in the District enjoyed "mostly positive" sales performances in the final two months of 2009.
In the Second District, results were mostly mixed for November and December, the Fed noted, but dealers in the area are largely optimistic about the coming year.
Looking at some individual areas of New York District, Rochester, N.Y.,-area dealers showed year-over-year inclines in November and early December, while Buffalo, N.Y.,-area contacts reported "sluggish" sales that were down 20 percent.
"Still, auto dealers across western New York say they are optimistic about sales prospects for 2010," the Fed pointed out. "They maintain that credit availability for consumers has improved, but that the dealers themselves continue to face tight floor-plan credit."
Though sales for most have been fairly stable, a few dealers in the Third District have seen their sales make a modest uptick, according to the Fed. Dealers here are forecasting a slight sales gain in 2010 compared to the prior year.
"Some Third District auto dealers reported improvement in sales in December, although, for most, sales have been roughly steady," the report indicated. "Dealers said financing for buyers has become somewhat more available, helping to support the sales rate. Looking ahead, dealers expect total sales in 2010 to slightly exceed sales in 2009."
Dealers in the Fourth District indicated their sales have essentially stayed consistently low since the CARS program drew to a close. Compared to the prior-year period, dealers reported static or modestly improved sales.
Interestingly enough, dealers reported that used sales were "as good, if not better" than sales on the new-car side. This has pushed prices upward.
"Dealers were evenly split in their expectations of future sales: flat in the first quarter of 2010 versus a modest increase," according to the report.
"Several dealers cited lean inventories and difficulties in obtaining floor-plan financing as reasons for low sales," the Fed noted. "There has been little change in staffing levels other than seasonal hiring by retailers and job losses at dealerships that closed."
Though the report did not offer much detail in the way of auto data from the Fifth District, the Fed noted that "big-ticket sales languished, notably at automobile dealerships."
In the Sixth District, auto sales were off from the year-ago period. However, the Fed noted that many dealers said they saw an upswing in activity to close the year.
Auto sales in the Seventh District remained static year-over-year at the start of December before climbing later in the month. Interestingly enough, some dealers reported that Pontiac and Saturn sales were lifted by some of the General Motors incentives designed move the automaker's discontinued units, according to the Fed.
Continuing on, there was no dealer-specific information provided from the St. Louis region, but the Fed noted that, "Economic conditions in some areas of the Eighth District have shown further signs of improvement since our previous report.
"In general, manufacturing activity continued to decline while service sector activity increased," officials noted. "Early reports from retailers in the District indicate a slight increase in holiday sales compared with a year ago."
Auto sales activity appeared to be rather mixed in the Ninth District. For instance, the Fed indicated that one Minnesota dealer was reporting year-over-year sales increases during November and December, while a contact from an auto dealer association in North Dakota said sales were "generally soft."
Following reports of stabilization in the previous Beige Book report, dealers in the Tenth District have seen their sales dip. That said, most are anticipating that their sales will improve.
The Fed also noted that contacts have reported high vehicle inventories and believe they will climb further. Moreover, a few dealers have had trouble getting customers financed.
In the Eleventh District, it appears "the worst has passed." The auto market has been fairly stable in last six weeks, and dealers are expecting this to continue "in the near term."
Finally, the Fed, reporting on the Twelfth District, noted continued softness in vehicle sales throughout the area. However, larger units like SUVs have shown an upswing in demand.
"Sales of used automobiles strengthened, reportedly spurred in part by price declines arising from increased supplies of formerly leased or rented vehicles," officials shared.