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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Vehicle sales throughout the 12 Federal Reserve Districts, for the most part, have remained static or softened recently, and dealers in some districts reported that extreme winter weather was likely to blame for at least part of the slowdown, according to the latest Beige Book report.

Specifically, contacts in New York, Cleveland and San Francisco saw slower sales on the new-vehicle side, but dealers in New York reported "brisk" sales on the used side.

Cleveland contacts, in particular, noticed that shoppers are still relying on OEM incentives.

Auto sales also fell in Chicago and Kansas City. For Chicago, the decline was partly attributable to reduced factory incentives, according to contacts. Meanwhile, Atlanta dealers continue to see soft vehicle sales and Dallas dealers reported "some seasonal softness."

Breaking it down, the report shared how dealers in each of the 12 Districts are currently faring.


While not offering any auto-specific data, the Fed noted that the First District continues to see overall economic conditions improve, and that retailers have largely reported mixed results so far in 2010.

"Year-over-year same-store sales vary from negative mid single-digits to positive low double-digits. Respondents reporting growth attribute it in part to consumers who continue to seek value-priced products, while contacts with softer sales attribute them in part to recent inclement weather," the Fed reported. "All retail respondents are cautious in their outlook."

New York

In the Second District, it has been somewhat of a mixed bag for auto sales, though they were "generally sluggish" in January and early February. On a positive note, used sales are healthy and dealers have been reporting moderately stronger credit conditions.

"New-auto sales have reportedly been steady to softer in early 2010," the Fed reported.

In the Buffalo area, for instance, after an "exceptionally weak" December, January's auto sales were down anywhere from 20 percent to 25 percent year-over-year. That said, February saw some reports of improvement.

"In contrast, contacts in the Rochester area report that sales ended 2009 on a very strong note, buoyed by incentives, but softened in early 2010, slipping about 10 percent below year-earlier levels," officials noted.


For Philadelphia auto dealers, sales have picked up since the last report, but February snowstorms have dampened these results. That said, dealers still are looking for 2010 to be a little bit stronger than 2009.

"Third District auto dealers reported a slight improvement in sales since the last Beige Book, but a negative impact from February snowstorms," the Fed explained. "Looking ahead, dealers continue to expect total sales for this year to be slightly ahead of last year."


In the Fourth District, new-vehicle sales, for the most part, were down month-over-month in January. However, compared to a year ago, they mostly showed improvement. 

Meanwhile, used-vehicle sales have been stable.

For the next few months, dealers are anticipating "modest improvements, at best."

"Auto-store inventories were characterized as tight. Some contacts told us that credit and financing have improved a bit during the past few weeks, and that many consumers remain heavily dependent on manufacturers' incentives," the Fed stated. "Reports show little change in staffing levels at retailers or auto dealers."


Auto sales "dropped sharply" in the Fifth District, along with other big ticket items. In general, the overall retail environment was largely impacted by recent winter storms.

"In addition, retail sales fell abruptly during recent major snow storms, although some of our contacts indicated that sales rebounded quickly as customers fought 'cabin fever' by shopping when roads were cleared," officials noted. "However, many retailers were unable to recover lost sales and advertising expenses because those snow storms occurred on consecutive weekend."


Overall, retailers in the Sixth District showed slower-than-expected traffic and sales. As far as auto sales in the Atlanta region, these continued to be sluggish in January, even though some segments saw improvement.


Due largely to fewer incentives being offered, inclement weather and the Toyota recalls, the Seventh District saw a dip in vehicle sales.

"Contacts indicated that many Toyota customers had likely held off on purchases given concern over the recall's negative impact on the residual value of their Toyota vehicles," the Fed shared. "Auto dealers reported that inventories, while still lower than normal, were at comfortable levels."

St. Louis

In January and early February, vehicle sales remained stable from a year ago in the Eighth District. Specifically, the Fed noted that 55 percent of dealers reported slower sales, 41 percent reported increases and 4 percent said they were static.

"About 32 percent reported an increase in low-end vehicle sales relative to high-end vehicle sales, while 14 percent reported the opposite," the Fed stated.

Roughly 30 percent of dealers said they had greater acceptance of finance applications. However, the same percentage said they saw more rejections.

Next, inventories were too low for about 27 percent dealers, but too high for 18 percent.

"The sales outlook among the car dealers was generally optimistic for March and April. About 68 percent of the car dealers expect sales to increase over 2009 levels, but 27 percent expect sales to decrease," officials noted. "The remaining 5 percent expect sales to be similar to last year."


Looking at some areas of the Ninth District in more detail, there have been some mixed results, apparently.

A representative for an auto dealers association in Montana noticed slight improvements at several dealerships, while a Minnesota dealer reported decreases for both new and used sales in January, then a modest upswing in February.

Kansas City

Auto sales remained slow in the 10th District, although there were some positive signs.

"Light car and truck sales remained in a downward trend but inventories continued to decline and few auto dealers expressed concern with excess inventory levels," the Fed pointed out.


Eleventh District auto sales have shown seasonal softness but are likely to improve, according to the Fed.

"Automobile dealers report seasonal softness in sales over the past six weeks," officials reported. "Inventories remain lean, and contacts expect gradual improvement in sales throughout the year."

San Francisco

Finally, in the 12th District, new-vehicle sales were down slightly. However, reports of rising consumer interest may be a positive sign for the region.

"New-automobile sales slipped somewhat, although the reports suggested that consumer interest rose in recent weeks, perhaps signaling improved sales in the near term," the Fed noted.

On the used side, lack of available units slowed down sales to a degree, and pushed up prices.