What are Car-Sales Saying About a Recession? According to Floyd Norris of the NYT, potentially alot.

In his column in today’s Times, Norris shows the chart below. It reveals the year-over-year rate of change in sales by new-car
dealers on a trailing 12 month basis (adjusted for inflation) — and compares them with recessions.

According to Norris, there is a surprisingly positive correlation when the figure is a negative 2% or greater. The  indicators suggests a recession is either "under way or set to begin
within a few months." According to the chart, it has never warned of a recession that did not occur:

>
Trailing 12 Month New Car Sales, US, Year-over-Year

Car_chart
Graphic courtesy of NYT

Norris:

The rule — unveiled here for the
first time — is that if the figure is down 2 percent or more, a
recession is either under way or set to begin within a few months. The
figure fell to a negative 2.4 percent when June sales figures were
released last week by the Census Bureau.

If things are miserable for America’s new-car dealers, can a recession
be averted? History says it cannot and suggests a downturn may have
already begun.

The available data go back to 1968, a period in which the American economy has recorded six recessions. The “dealer doldrums indicator,” as we will call it, called five of them, missing the 1981-82 recession only because it was not persuaded that the 1980 downturn had ever ended. It has never warned of a recession that did not occur.

The risk of using 12-month figures is that by the time bad news is clear from new-car sales, it can be overwhelmingly obvious from other economic indicators. But such long periods avoid the possibility of false readings because of the volatility of new-car sales.

The chart measures all sales by new-car dealers, which is how the retail sales statistics report the data. So it includes their revenue from used-car sales, parts and service. But it does not include sales by dealers who sell only used cars or repair garages that are not also car dealers.

Norris states that the "Dealers are hurting. The rest of us may soon share their pain."

>

Update, August 19, 2006 3:06pm

Dan Gross points us to another transportation warning:

The Yacht Indicator!

>

Source:
A Car-Sales Indicator Suggests a Recession Is Near or Already Here
Floyd Norris
NYTimes,  August 19, 2006
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/19/business/19charts.html

Category: Consumer Spending, Data Analysis, Economy, Psychology

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

28 Responses to “The Car Dealer Doldrums Indicator”

  1. Jrs says:

    I read yesterday in some of the financial news associated with Ford’s slowdown/shutdown of production that part of the overall effort was to reduce dealers in addition to production. To me this indicates the dealer overhead and selling velocity required to keep a dealership making an economic profit (stress economic and not accounting) is anticipated to be a larger percent of the population. While this is causal observation and not hard regression, it does support the sales downturn perspective outlined in your post as an indicator to negative GNP growth.

  2. Leisa says:

    off topic….bloomberg TV Robert Shiller interview of Housings Impact on Economy. You will need to download the software to watch/hear tv/radio. It’s worth it. Nice breack from CNBC.

  3. advsys says:

    Maybe I can save some folks some time.

    Oh, but this time it will be different. Let me tell you why….

    NOT!

    :)

  4. Jimcos says:

    This should be a high school econ no-brainer:

    Housing downturn + fewer Starbucks + declining consumer confidence + lower auto production = what likelihood?

    a. Global warming
    b Boston wins AL East
    c. Recession
    d. Laptop fires
    e. None of the above
    f. All of the above

  5. TG says:

    B .
    RedSox win would be a disaster for the economy

  6. Zephyr says:

    The correlation is compelling. But it looks to be a lagging indicator. Good for confirmation after the start.

  7. larry says:

    downtrend for the last 20 years. may be current negative reading is part of the 40 years natural business cycle or something like this.
    car is a commodity more and more . i read somewhere that a couple of years ago number of cars in the US exceeded number of license drivers. According to the article US is the only country in the world where there are more cars on the roads than drivers.

    6 years loans from GM and Toyota can be another factor.

  8. Bob A says:

    …but I’m sure we will still hear from those who will say Ford is giving 0pct financing and cutting production 30pct because the economy is booming and business is great. Larry Kudlow?

  9. spencer says:

    BEA has a series of real auto dealer sales that is deflated by a different methodology then he uses.

    It shows a somewhat different pattern then in the Norris chart. If particular it shows that the year over year change in real auto dealer sales was -9.6% and
    -10.5% last Sept. & Oct.

    The Norris chart implies that the signal is more a lagging indicator then a leading indicator.

    Interestingly if you look at the actual data on new car and light truck sales they have been flat for the last 5 years — bouncing when manufacturers discounted and falling when discount were removed. Consequently the year over year change in new car and light trucks has been negative in at least one month of every year for the last five years.

    So how much of a leading indicator is this.

    Moreover, since Ford’s market share has fallen so sharply in recent years maybe the Ford production cut
    could easily be offset by increased output by the foreign producers — mainly Japanese –
    in the US . that is what has happened to the sales numbers.

  10. wcw says:

    Nice chart, and a good indicator. Thanks.

  11. Shawn Joy says:

    Not surprising since sales of big ticket items tend to be interest rate sensitive and a leading indicator of business cycles.

  12. Michael says:

    While you are looking at car sales and CEOs buying yachts as a predictor of poor performance, you should also look at companies buying naming rights for stadiums. It ususally means they have a little too much cash lying around and are getting reckless. Enron Field, anyone?

    http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/jan2001/nf20010125_035.htm

  13. I’m not an economist…..but, I say we print more money! (I blame Israel)

  14. whipsaw says:

    I like the yacht link. It reminded me about Ellison’s boat which is the same length as a Perry-class missile frigate. Talk about conspicuous consumption.

    Good story: the helicopter landing pad doubles as a basketball court. When they are playing, Larry has crew riding around on zodiacs to retrieve the ball out of the water.

  15. Johnny V. says:

    I work for an auto manufacturer and I feel that New Car sales are not that great a predictor anymore. 1968 yes…2006 no. The reasons are because new cars have become a loss leader, not a profit center, for manufacturers and dealerships across the board. Part of this is the attractiveness of Certified Pre-Owned programs and the decline in overall vehicle residual values. In essence cars are now like PC’s…instead of keeping them for 10 years and fixing /replacing components you should instead be turning them over regularly….either when the warranty ends or about 65-70k miles max. If something breaks that you have to pay for then toss the car and replace it with a new one. Also against this recession prediction is that the typical dealer structure does not rely on new car sales at all…if you do you’ll lose money real fast. Instead, service and used-cars are the gravy that keeps dealer groups going. If you see a dealership go out of business it is either because of gross mismanagement or a lack of attention to used cars and service. New cars are important to keep the service business going, but how on earth do you make money at it consistently when customers have access to all the pricing, invoice, and incentive data? When you make money (called “Gross”) on a new car deal it is usually because the customer was either not informed or not trying hard to get a better deal. The industry has a problem in general with new car sales because so many dealers want to focus on used-cars rather than new. The industry itself created this dilemma and helps explain a decline in new car sales far more then matching it with whatever the economy is doing.

  16. Craig H says:

    That chart makes me bullish. On bonds.

  17. whipsaw says:

    per Johnny V.:
    “In essence cars are now like PC’s…instead of keeping them for 10 years and fixing /replacing components you should instead be turning them over regularly….either when the warranty ends or about 65-70k miles max. If something breaks that you have to pay for then toss the car and replace it with a new one.”

    Interesting and useful post, but where does 6 year financing fit into the “go buy another one” idea? It’s not unusual for somebody who works in Metro Atlanta to commute/drive 15k per year which leaves you about 2 years under water when the warranty ends and you are facing 60k service. If nothing is really wrong at that point, most people will eat the 60k service with the intention of riding on until the loan is paid out. The alternative is usually to roll the unpaid balance into yet another loan, or worse, a lease.

    I agree that the margins on new car sales are pretty nominal and that used cars and extended warranties have become a big deal, along with parts/service in general. But even the service side has problems in a non-warranty situation- why should I bother with a dealer for normal service when I can go to Tune Up Clinic or something like it and get things done quickly and competently for less money?

    The underlying problem is that with the exception of boats and aircraft, there is nothing that you can buy new that is a worse deal than a new car. Drive it off of the lot and $5-10k disappears. The ideal buy is at 2 years old, but there aren’t many of those other than fleet rentals and repos because of the financing.

    During the 60′s, you got a new car either every year or every other year if you were more or less rich, the rest of us got one every 3-4 years. That was partly because they fell apart at 50k miles and partly because nobody would lend for more than 3 years. Now they fall apart at 60k miles but the loans are 4-6 years- not a good situation.

  18. Cherry says:

    The key thing is, another bit of data pointing to a nearing recession.

    The problem with the bulls is, they think all the bears are calling for some majestic crash. Hardly the case. More like a 90-91/2001 repeat. Recession 2007, sluggish recovery in 2008-9 then boom.

    Business cycles happen recessions happen. The market doesn’t want to hear it so they irrationally rally also called a “W” rally.

    Now, if something that damages the global economic system and the credit ponzi scheme it has created, something worse could happen. The 74-83 period was a bleak bleak economic period globally. After the long 45-73 boom. Never say never. If the International system busts………………

  19. GRL says:

    per Johnny V.:
    “In essence cars are now like PC’s…instead of keeping them for 10 years and fixing /replacing components you should instead be turning them over regularly….either when the warranty ends or about 65-70k miles max. If something breaks that you have to pay for then toss the car and replace it with a new one.”

    This suggestion is exactly the opposite of the approach I take. Personally, I loathe buying a new car, and not just because the sales people are sharks and the process a pain.

    A car is a depreciating asset. The depreciation is greatest within the first 5 minutes after you drive it off the lot. Why would anyone want to “turn them over regularly” when every time you do, you lose money? And, if you have to rely on the warranty, then you bought the wrong brand of car.

    No, my approach is to buy a quality brand new, pay all cash, and drive it into the ground. That usually takes about 10 years, although I owned my last car, a little Honda Civic hatchback I paid $7300 for in October of 1988, for 12 years, and got about 300,000 miles on it. (Writing a check for a car, and then driving it off the lot, is a wonderful experience.)

    Over the course of that time, I often thought about buying a new car, but I just could not bring myself to do it — the “use value” of my little Honda far exceeded anything I could get for it on the open market, let alone a dealer rip-, oops, I mean, trade in, which made the notion of paying a bunch of money for the privilege of replacing my perfectly functional Honda with something equally, or possibly less, functional a total non-starter.

    I finally was forced to give it up in 2001. The car ran fine, like a tank, actually. However, it had started burning oil, and I could not find anyone who could get it to pass smog check.

    The car I have now, a Toyota RAV4, I hope to hang onto until about 2010 or so, although the lower gas mileage than my little Honda does not make me happy.

    The long term trend in sales declines mentioned above is probably a function of the fact that new cars have become more and more expensive. The manufacturers and dealers try to hide the rising cost with leases, longer loans, etc., but the reality is that new car prices have outstripped the ability of people to pay them. Hence, you get people like me.

  20. whipsaw says:

    per GRL:
    “No, my approach is to buy a quality brand new, pay all cash, and drive it into the ground. That usually takes about 10 years, although I owned my last car, a little Honda Civic hatchback I paid $7300 for in October of 1988, for 12 years, and got about 300,000 miles on it.”

    gotcha beat- I bought a Saab in 1983 and loved it. Only got rid of it in 2002 when it was vandalized and worth about $1000 if I spent $800 to get it running again. Maybe 300k on the odometer. Great car and best place you could be in ice/snow, but they all come to an end. I paid about $14k for it then and can’t quite see paying the going rate now especially since they have become GM-quality.

    That’s one of 3 Saabs that I’ve owned, all good, but that one was excellent. If you want to learn all about cars that you cannot keep past warranty unless you are rich, buy a Porsche. I loved mine, but I couldn’t afford it once the warranty ran out and more or less normal refits were 3x what they would have been with most cars.

  21. paul says:

    On the topic of the indicator – does it account for leases? The write up mentioned revenue from new and used car sales, but does it included leases (and if so, is revenue all at time of signing)?

    I ask because over the time period, leases have become more common. And, as people’s perceptions of the economy worsen, they are less likely to get a longer term auto loan and more likely to get into a shorter-term lease.

  22. Detroit Dan says:

    “my approach is to buy a quality brand new, pay all cash, and drive it into the ground. ”

    That’s what I do also…

  23. edhopper says:

    To me this is the most significant passage from the article

    “There is, of course, no mystery now as to what the problems are for car dealers. They are pinched by the slumping real estate market because people can take less money out of home equity to buy cars. ”

    It says that 1) The idea of taking out a HELOC to buy a car has become mainstream. and 2)our economy in the last few years has been based on a real estate bubble.

    This is an economy that cannot sustain growth.

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    Siemens Xelibri 7– US$85
    Siemens Xelibri 8– US$95
    Panasonic G50– US$80
    Panasonic G51– US$95
    Panasonic GD35– US$20
    Panasonic GD52– US$25
    Panasonic GD55– US$49
    Panasonic GD67– US$39
    Panasonic GD75– US$45
    Panasonic GD87– US$125
    Panasonic GD88– US$129
    Panasonic GD90– US$30
    Panasonic GD92– US$30
    Panasonic GD93– US$20
    Panasonic GD95– US$39
    Panasonic X70– US$120
    Panasonic X66– US$110
    Panasonic X68– US$115
    Panasonic A101– US$110
    Panasonic A102– US$120
    Alcatel OneTouch 301– US$20
    Alcatel OneTouch 302– US$25
    Alcatel OneTouch 303– US$30
    Alcatel OneTouch 511– US$35
    Alcatel OT525– US$39
    Alcatel One Touch 501– US20
    Alcatel One Touch 311– US$25
    Alcatel One Touch 701– US$30
    Alcatel One Touch 512– US$40
    Alcatel One Touch 715– US$55
    NEC N830– US$85
    NEC N710– US$70
    NEC C616– US$110
    NEC N900– US$150
    NEC N820– US$80
    NEC N910– US$170
    NEC N700– US$55
    Sharp GX1– US$99
    Sharp GX10– US$100
    Sharp GX10i– US$110
    Sharp GX15– US$110
    Sharp GX20– US$125
    Sharp GX30– US$135
    Philips Fisio 120– US$25
    Philips Fisio 311– US$30
    Philips Fisio 620– US$35
    Philips Fisio 825– US$35
    Philips Ozéo 8@8– US$45
    Philips Xénium– US$45
    Philips Fisio 820 + Kit Blue– US$49
    Nextel i55sr– US$65
    Nextel i2000plus– US$35
    Nextel i58sr– US$30
    Nextel i530– US$35
    Nextel i205– US$20
    Nextel i305– US$25
    Nextel i35s– US$29
    Nextel i88– US$30
    Nextel i90– US$59
    Nextel i95cl– US$70
    Nextel i60c– US$40
    Nextel 6510TM– US$110
    Nextel i730– US$85
    Nextel i733– US$95
    Nextel i736– US$105
    Nextel i830– US$115
    Nextel i860– US$125
    Nextel i930– US$140
    Audiovox 8500– US$30
    Audiovox 8300– US$39
    Audiovox 9100– US$15
    Audiovox 9150– US$75
    Audiovox 9155– US$35
    kyocera 5135– US$10
    kyocera 2035– US$25
    kyocera 2135– US$25
    kyocera 7135– US$125

    NOTE: ALL PHONES ARE IN FACTORY SEALED BOXES, WITH
    CHARGERS, ACCESSORIES, MANUALS INCLUDED.
    FOR MORE INFORMATIONS PLEASE CONTACT US HERE.

    E-mail: mobilelaptopdealer7@yahoo.com
    TELL: +234-8038259271
    +234-8050494074

    BOBBY BUMPER
    SALES AND MARKETING DEPARTMENT MANAGER.

    ASIAN ELECTRONICS COMPANY LTD.
    THANK YOU.

  25. The Car Dealer Doldrums Indicator: A Measure Of Stagflation

    The chart of Trailing 12 Month New Car Sales, turned negative indicating a recession is either under way or set to begin within a few months a…

  26. John F. says:

    Bobby Bumper: piss off!!

    Has anyone seen a time series of pickup truck sales only (either unit sales or dollar volume)? This ought to be a good leading indicator for the health of small business generally and home improvement-related businesses in particular.

  27. harold wale says:

    Dear sir,

    We are the representatives of a group of village gold washers in Burkina faso in Africa who has the offer of Gold dust Au. Actually we have a new stock of 700 Alluvial Gold dust of 22 Carats and more to 8000 $ US/
    KG.

    The Characteristics of the 700 Alluvial Gold dust are as follows:

    Designation: ………….. Product Metal Gold (WITH) Alluvial Dust
    Quantity: ………………. 700 KGS
    Quality: ………………… 22 Carats and more (22K)
    Purity: …………………. 999,99/1000
    Prices per kg: ………….. 8000 $US/KG

    If you are interested to buy all the quantity or if you want to buy a part of the 700 Alluvial Gold dust, please you are required to answer very quickly so that we guarantee the desired quantity to you. Awaiting
    your urgent and quick response to proceed on the selling processes.

    Sincerely

    harold wale.

  28. Mr Roland Mason says:

    Dear Sir,
    I need to purchase some laptop in your store,like mens wares thank you for your understanding.and i will like you also to give me a good price.

    From
    Mr Mason