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MENLO PARK, Calif. — Describing much of 2009 as "atypical," OPENLANE'S Nagi Palle shared a forecast of stabilizing wholesale prices and modest retail sales growth this year in the latest OPENLANE Market Index Report.

Because the new-vehicle retail sales market already is picking up slightly, Palle contends that trade-in volume at dealerships should improve as the year unfolds.

However, Palle remained hesitant about the used retail market, predicting it to be flat this year as compared to 2009.

Continuing on, OPENLANE mentioned that wholesale prices rose 20 percent throughout last year without showing a typical decline in the fourth quarter. Palle then calculated that wholesale price movements — especially increases — cannot be expected to demonstrate seasonal changes in 2010. He based that assessment on the fact that starting prices already are relatively high.

Discussing other differences between the potential of this year and behaviors of 2009, Palle noticed a drop in pent-up consumer demand. He figures demand is about 50 percent lower than at the beginning of last year.

"Lower pent-up demand will put some pressure on the retail market, unlike in Q1 2009 when the year began with a very depressed used-vehicle retail market," Palle explained.

One other trend Palle pointed out going into 2010 involved off-lease volume. He indicated that off-lease volume will begin to decline during the fourth quarter, tightening used-vehicle supplies.

In making any predictions about this year, Palle stressed that "2009 ended with atypical wholesale market conditions, and 2010 is also beginning with such conditions."

"These will have implications for both pricing and volume expectations for both sellers and buyers," Palle went on to state.

"It will be important throughout 2010 to recognize that ‘typical' expectations may not be valid," he added.

Circling back to 2009 data, the OPENLANE Market Index slipped one point to close last year. The December reading was 113, the same figure as October and a tick below November.

The move of the overall index reflected a mix of price changes among the four vehicle segments analyzed by OPENLANE.

Car prices sustained the greatest decline, sliding 4 percentage points in December as compared to November.

Meanwhile, SUV prices started to show signs of growth in early December but finished the month at the same level as November.

After initially slipping slightly, truck prices reached their peak value to close out December, climbing 11 percentage points over November.

The jump recorded by minivans was the highest single percentage gain in December. OPENLANE found a rise of 13 percentage points.

Moving on to discuss dealer interest, segment results were somewhat mixed.

Dealer interest in cars ticked up 2 percentage points in December 2009 and exceeded year-over-year levels by 7 percentage points.

Minivan interest dropped 2 percentage points, but as compared to December 2008 the dealer interest percentage is 16 points higher.

Interest in SUVs slipped 2 percentage points as compared to the previous month and also the same percentage drop on the year-over-year comparison.

And in the truck segment, a slight dealer interest increase in December did not slow an overall year-over-year decline that calculated into a drop of 25 percentage points.

Also included in the most recent OPENLANE Market Index was Palle's overall recap of trends in 2009. He reiterated the 20-percent overall climb in wholesale prices began in January and continued upward until October, softening only slightly afterward.

Palle also contended that short supply of wholesale vehicles led to record conversion rates, especially in late spring through late summer of last year.

"Year-over-year volumes were lower through the summer — given high days supply — but began to increase in early summer once the days supply began to decline with auction volumes hitting a peak in August 2009," Palle explained.

All told, Palle wrapped up his discussion about 2009 by calling it a "perfect storm" for the wholesale market.

"It comprised a perfect storm for the wholesale market due to a combination of weak new-vehicle retail sales accompanied by a relatively strong used car retail market," Palle indicated.

"Fewer new car trade-ins led to a greater demand for wholesale units at auction with many dealerships beginning 2009 with very healthy used car supplies," he went on to state.

"But as the used car retail market grew in 2009, supply began falling with steep declines during the summer of 2009, benefitting auction places," Palle concluded.