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Economy Industry Trends

Successful Second Half Requires Flexibility

Do you have a strategic plan for the second half of this year? Granted, the retail automotive industry has been on a roller coaster lately. But now is the time to assess your dealership’s performance over the past two quarters and set some milestones to achieve your end-of-year profit metrics. A successful second half of 2022 will require some flexibility and willingness to change behavior.

Looking ahead, there are several factors which spell opportunity for dealers to capture notable revenue in the second half of the year. Strong consumer financial positions, credit terms which remain largely favorable, and continued pent-up demand bode well for savvy dealers. While the Federal Reserve has raised interest rates and recession rumblings linger, consumer financing is still discounted when compared to rates during the Great Recession. According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) quarterly report, aggregate monthly personal income has rebounded to pre-pandemic averages and auto loan volume has recovered faster than in previous down-turns.

For dealers, these favorable credit terms also spell revenue opportunities for those who strategically manage their inventory purchasing and pipeline sales. While inventory and supply chains remain an issue, the wheels are beginning to turn and factories are cranking out more units, albeit maybe ones without heated seats or auto-folding mirrors. Used car inventory is also improving, with bulk-sellers like CarMax reporting sufficient inventory to meet 30 days’ worth of demand. Rising interest rates may also be working in the industry’s favor for once, prompting a bit of a cooling effect on demand and allowing OEMs to catch up.

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Economy

Will Interest Hikes Impact Dealerships?

Earlier this month, the Federal Reserve increased its interest rate by a quarter of a point, and signaled they planned six more increases throughout the year. In response, banks with large auto loan portfolios raised their prime rates from 3.25 percent to 3.50 percent. The theory behind this is relatively straightforward. By raising the federal funds rate a domino effect takes place, slowing demand for goods and tapping the brakes on inflation. Whether directly or indirectly, a number of borrowing costs for consumers will also rise.

Prices for new and used vehicles have skyrocketed so much in the past year that an increase in interest rates may seem like small potatoes. The average interest rate on new car loans was 4.39 percent in February, relatively flat from a year ago, according to Dealertrack. The average for used vehicles was 7.83 percent in February, down from 8.25 percent. Car buyers taking out loans for a new vehicle borrowed an average of $39,721 in 2021, an increase of over $4,000 from a year earlier, according to Experian. As a result, monthly loan payments hit a record high of $644.

Car loans tend to track against the five-year Treasury, which is influenced by the federal fund rate. But the rate a consumer pays is based on credit history, the type of loan, down payment, type of vehicle and other factors. Those buyers with poor credit could pay more than 20 percent over the prime rate. For a consumer qualifying at the prime rate, a quarter point increase on a $40,000 loan is about $5 a month, or another $300 over the life of a five-year loan. For a buyer at subprime or worse, a quarter point increase could make a significant difference on the type of vehicle, the terms of the loan or even a “no-go” decision to purchase a vehicle.

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Economy F&I Industry Trends

2022 Predictions: Demand for Units Bodes Well for Dealers

2021 has felt like a dance with very complex steps, back and forth. In the first half of the year, the economy took a step back with severe semiconductor chip shortages, persistently high levels of COVID-19 infections across the country, and challenging labor shortages. As a result, the seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) for August dropped to 13.09 million, reflecting a steady decline since the April peak of 18.5 million according to Motor Intelligence. The August reading was the weakest of the year and the lowest since June 2020’s 13.23 million rate, early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, we are experiencing a different story. According to TD Economics, in October, U.S. vehicle sales took a step forward, rising by 6.5 percent month-over-month to 13.0 million SAAR units. Last month’s gain came in well ahead of expectations, which called for a more modest gain to 12.5 million units. These forward steps brought an end to five consecutive months of declines.

However, inventory availability is still taking a step back, putting a false cap on consumer demand. New vehicle inventory remains compressed, with estimates for October revealing that dealership supply slipped to an all-time low of just 20 days. The combination of strong demand and limited inventory has continued to exert upward pressure on new vehicle prices, which are estimated to be up nearly 20 percent from last year’s levels. The October gain indicates that at current depressed production levels, 12 million seems to be the natural floor for sales.