By John Porretto
The Associated Press
DETROIT - New car and truck sales in June are likely to be well off last month's robust results, but analysts say business still should be sound despite only a modest rise in consumer incentives.
Two industry analysts, John Casesa of Merrill Lynch and Chris Ceraso of Credit Suisse First Boston, said Thursday they expect June auto sales to be up about 2 percent from a year ago when major automakers report the closely watched results July 1. A third analyst, Gary Lapidus of Goldman Sachs, predicts volume to be flat.
Automobile sales account for roughly one-fifth of total retail sales tracked by the U.S. Commerce Department.
In May, overall U.S. sales rose 3.4 percent, according to Autodata Corp., as skyrocketing gas prices did little to dampen demand for pickups and sport-utility vehicles. Truck sales, which include SUVs and minivans, rose 4.7 percent, while passenger car sales were up 1.9 percent.
May's seasonally adjusted annual sales rate was a strong 17.84 million units, compared with 16.32 million in May 2003. The rate indicates what sales would be for the full year if they remained at the same pace for all 12 months. Full-year sales for 2003 were 16.7 million.
In a research report, Casesa said he expects a selling rate of 16.7 million units for June, up from 16.5 million a year ago.
"Given May's high 17.8 million SAAR, the modest drop-off we estimate for June is at very least neutral, if not positive relative to market expectations," Casesa said.
George Pipas, Ford Motor Co.'s top sales analyst, said a better gauge of the industry is to look at the selling rate over a period of several months.
For example, Pipas said, the six-month selling rate for December to May was 16.9 million units, in line with many forecasts for all of 2004.
Ceraso said a bright spot among the domestic automakers in June could be Chrysler, helped in large part by sales of its new 300C sedan and Dodge Durango SUV.
GM shares fell 47 cents to close at $47.79 on the New York Stock Exchange, while Ford shares dropped 21 cents to $16.15 and DaimlerChrysler's U.S. shares lost 1 cent to end at $46.71.
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