The latest Beige Book — the Federal Reserve’s ongoing effort to gather anecdotal information on current economic conditions through reports from bank and branch directors and interviews with key business contacts, economists, market experts and other sources — showed pockets of dealership turbulence in several of the 12 districts.
While contacts in Cleveland, Kansas City and Dallas expressed an optimistic outlook for future vehicle sales, most districts noted that auto sales slowed during the reporting period, but remained at fairly high levels.
All but the First District in Boston discussed the auto industry in the latest Beige Book that Fed officials released on Wednesday. Many assessments not only touched on what happened as the second quarter closed but also delved into future expectations, since the Fed won’t offer its next Beige Book until after Labor Day.
Here’s the rundown of auto-industry content shared in the newest Beige Book:
The Fed indicated that new-vehicle sales are reported to have softened somewhat in May and June, though they are still said to be at fairly high levels. Officials mentioned inventories of new vehicles are reported to be mixed, largely reflecting availability of financing incentives on some models but not others.
The report also acknowledged the used-vehicle market remains soft, with both sales activity and prices drifting down in recent months. Officials pointed out that retail and wholesale credit conditions generally remain favorable.
Overall, Third District dealers told the Fed that vehicle sales slowed further during the current period but remain at high levels.
Officials added that more precise early period reports indicated sales were lower than during the same time last year.
“Anecdotal reports for recent weeks suggest sales will be flat, at best, with last year,” the Fed said. “Dealers are content with the relatively high sales numbers; however, they spoke of ‘managing the plateau’ and of caution against overextending their businesses financially.
Dealers in this district still see growth potential in 2017, according to the Beige Book.
Year-to-date new-vehicle sales through May came in on par with those of a year ago, according to dealers in the Fourth District.
The Fed found that automaker incentives continue to rise and are now reportedly above 10 percent, but average transaction prices are also rising because of the ongoing shift in consumer preferences from cars to light trucks (including SUVs).
“New-vehicle unit volume is expected to remain at high levels this year, though dealers anticipate retail transactions to decline and fleet sales to rise,” officials said.
And now some good news for the used departments at dealerships in the district:
“Consumers are seeing increasing value in the purchase of used cars,” officials said. “The large number of leased vehicles being turned in is putting downward pressure on their resale prices. Year-to-date sales of used vehicles rose almost 5 percent compared to those of a year ago.”
The Fed added that dealer payrolls increased along seasonal trends.
The Fed found that vehicle sales varied by location.
“A dealership in western Virginia reported that a recent increase in their digital footprint has helped push up foot traffic and sales, and an executive at a dealership just outside of Washington, D.C. said that sales have been stronger since our previous report,” officials said.
“Dealerships in central North Carolina and the Hampton Roads region of Virginia reported that sales remained steady at previous levels,” they continued. “Sales of heavy trucks declined, according to a dealer who also noted that higher prices caused by changes in engine emissions requirements in the next model year could weaken future sales.”
Heading deeper into the South, dealers reported some slowing in the pace of sales in May.
“Merchants expect sales to remain relatively flat over the next few months,” the Fed said.
Purchases of new and used vehicles continued to be “robust, and leasing activity remained “strong,” according to the Beige Book recap of the Seventh District.
Officials noticed average vehicle transaction prices again moved higher as the mix of sales continued to shift toward larger, more expensive vehicles and because of greater demand for high-tech options.
Dealers in eastern Arkansas reported that sales continue to be favorable compared with 2015.
“Multiple dealers noted that they expect an increase in year-over-year sales in the third quarter,” the Fed said.
As energy prices soften, dealers in the Ninth District are seeing the impact.
“Sales of new vehicles at a dealership in Rapid City, S.D., were off by 50 percent and used-vehicle sales were off by 30 percent since January due to layoffs in Wyoming coal mines and oil fields in North Dakota,” officials said.
The Beige Book indicated sales were flat and remained below year-ago levels.
“But dealer contacts expected a moderate pick-up in the coming months,” the Fed said. “Auto inventories decreased and were expected to fall further.”
The Fed found that sales in this district held steady and were in line with year-ago levels.
“Sales are projected to be strong in 2016, but contacts expressed concern about the potential negative impact of the election on consumer confidence,” officials said.
And finally out West, officials recapped that vehicle sales eased somewhat, “and contacts noted that some dealers were selling new vehicles at a loss to meet sales quotas set by manufacturers.”