While the end of February is still a week away, some analysts are already warning that February sales numbers will be off from last year. Edmunds is forecasting that U.S. sales for February will include 1,271,009 new cars and trucks, which translates to an estimated seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 16.7 million. While this represents a 12.3 percent increase in sales from January 2019, it’s a 2.2 percent decrease from February 2018.
“Although the drop-off in sales is rather subtle year over year, February is shaping up to be a good barometer of the gradual sales decline we expect through 2019,” said Jeremy Acevedo, Edmunds’ manager of industry analysis, in a statement. “We’re really starting to see a slump in retail demand that stems from the growing costs of new car purchases.”
While some analysts have noted that the slump in sales could be due to the extreme cold from the “Arctic Vortex” and the record government shutdown, Edmunds disagrees and says it’s about affordability for most customers.
“It’s easy to point fingers at anomalous factors like the polar vortex as the reason for a sales slowdown, but the numbers don’t show that’s the case,” said Acevedo. “Record-high interest rates and rising average transaction prices are what’s really putting pressure on the market and keeping car shoppers at bay so far in 2019,” said Acevedo.
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York recently raised the alarm that more than seven million Americans were 90 or more days behind on their car loans at the end of 2018. The 90-day delinquency rate at the end of 2018 was 2.4 percent, up from a low of 1.5 percent in 2012. The fastest rates of delinquencies are among Americans under age 30.
The slump isn’t a uniquely American thing. It was recently reported that European car sales fell by 4.6 percent in January from the same month last year. This is also being viewed as a warning of economic slowdown.