Auto Sales Surge 1.8% in August, Spending Flat Ex-Autos

A surge in auto sales buoyed consumer spending in August. Ex-autos, retail spending was flat.

Despite reports of SUVs piling up on dealer lots, the Census Bureau's Advance Monthly Retail Sales report shows autos are leading the way.

Key Spending Items

  • Motor vehicles and parts sales rose a whopping 1.8% in August for an overall retail sales gain of 0.4%
  • Motor vehicles and parts dealers were up 6.8 percent from last year.
  • Excluding Autos, sales were flat.
  • Total sales for the June 2019 through August 2019 period were up 3.7 percent from the same period a year ago. The June 2019 to July 2019 percent change was revised from up 0.7 percent to up 0.8 percent.
  • Retail trade sales were up 0.6 percent from June 2019, and 4.6 percent above last year.
  • General merchandise sales fell 0.3% for the month but rose 1.% from a year ago.
  • Department stores continue to struggle. Sales fell 1.1% for the month and are down 5.4% from a year ago.
  • Nonstore retailers were up 1.6% for the month and 16.0 percent from year ago.

These strong auto numbers conflict with reported flatline sales from the manufacturers and reports of SUVs (not just sedans) piling up on dealer lots.

Something seems amiss.

Revisions coming?

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

Comments (28)
No. 1-13
Sechel
Sechel

Always pays to dig, I was going to guess more sub-prime financing, but dealer incentives and fleet sales are always a suspicion

“August sales are coming in hot as aggressive incentives lifted the market above our forecast," said Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist at Cox Automotive. "The surprisingly strong numbers may be misleading. Although the retail/fleet mix is not yet known, the strong performance of some vehicle lines suggests heavy fleet activity may have occurred for some brands."

Mish
Mish

Editor

" Although the retail/fleet mix is not yet known, the strong performance of some vehicle lines suggests heavy fleet activity may have occurred for some brands."

Fleet sales are not retail sales.

Mish
Mish

Editor

I have heard that auto "sales" are counted the moment they were shipped to dealers and that would explain things but I talked to Calculated Risk just a moment ago and he thinks sales are actual sales.

KidHorn
KidHorn

I bought my son a new car in August. Lots of incentives trying to clear out 2019 models. I think I paid over $8 under sticker cost. Not sustainable.

Sechel
Sechel

More digging.

Forecasters expect an increase in U.S. auto sales in August, boosted by an early Labor Day weekend that falls entirely within the August sales total — instead of some in August and some in September, at least for auto-industry accounting purposes.