March auto sales lag expectations, hurting vehicle firms' shares

Keith Crain is Editor-in Chief of Automotive News

General Motors (GM) inched up about 1.5%, while Ford (F) fell 4.0% during the quarter. One leading indicator investors can watch is consumer confidence, which continues to trend higher, since auto sales and other big-ticket purchases typically remain strong when confidence is high.

The combined Honda and Acura total vehicle sales for March were down from the previous year, but the Civic remained the best-selling retail passenger auto in America for 2017's first quarter. Fleet sales were down 9 percent. Used auto sales were expected to have increased to 3.6 million in March, up from 3.4 million in February. Analysts were expecting sales to fall 5.9%.

While SUV sales were key to those increases, sedans also bolstered the numbers.

The automaker's vehicle sales are down 24.2% as consumer interest in trucks led to a 2.5% increase in truck sales.

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The FCA assembles the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Wrangler at its local factories, while it imports other models, such as the Jeep Renegade, as well as all Alfa Romeo and Fiat models. The Rogue small SUV set a March sales record of almost 40,000 vehicles, 43 per cent increase.

The early results cast doubt on estimates that industrywide U.S. auto sales would rise in March compared with 2016's weakest month, when results were depressed by the early Easter holiday. This meant that the company is continuing its losing streak with January and February recording a drop of 0.6 percent and four percent respectively. Its Escape recorded 13 percent sales gain in the same period. At Buick, the automaker said crossovers are expected to account for more than 75% of retail deliveries in 2017, up from 66% in 2016.

Ford's monthly sales fell 7.2 percent year-over-year in March to 236,250 vehicles. In March, vehicle sales only accounted for 39% of total industry sales. (TSE:7201) sales rose 3% on the quarter, with SUV and truck sales rising 29%. The shares were acquired at an average price of $11.67 per share, for a total transaction of $1,999,992.93.

Fiat Chrysler reported a 5 percent decline in sales to 199,467 units. Vehicle sales fell 15 per cent.

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General Motors Co (GM.N) and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCHA.MI) (FCAU.N) shares both fell nearly 4 percent, while Ford Motor Co (F.N) was off 3 percent.

The concern over falling sales, though, perhaps also draws yet more attention to market concern over inventory levels and consumer discounts, which have forced automakers to push harder and harder to sell their products. But sales of its most profitable products in the US were good, despite the choppy market: F-Series sales were up 10.3% for the quarter, Ford-brand SUV sales rose 2.4%, and Lincoln sales gained 8.7%. On Friday, July 22 the stock rating was maintained by RBC Capital Markets with "Sector Perform". SUV sales are also down, declining 3.4% in the most recent quarter.

Chrysler sales dropped by 33 percent, while Fiat sales were down 5 percent.

The share price of the company (NYSE:F) was down -0.34% during the last trading session, with a high of 11.68 and the volume of Ford Motor Company shares traded was 26718895. Ford Motor Company had a return on equity of 23.23% and a net margin of 3.08%.

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Nissan reported a 3.2% increase, while Honda posted a 0.7% decline. Glg Limited Liability holds 0.19% of its portfolio in General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) for 78,597 shares.

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