U.S. April Car Sales May Rise Before Being Affected by Quake

From Bloomberg

As reported by Bloomberg’s Craig Trudell: Auto

U.S. auto sales may have exceeded a 13 million annual pace for the third straight month, accelerating from a year earlier, as consumer confidence rose before vehicles produced prior to Japan’s earthquake began to run out.

April light-vehicle deliveries, to be released tomorrow, may have run at a seasonally adjusted 13 million annual rate, the average estimate of 12 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. The pace was 13.1 million in March and 13.4 million in February, according to Autodata Corp. in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey.

Confidence among U.S. consumers rose more than forecast in April, signaling that six straight months of job growth is helping Americans endure the highest gasoline prices in almost three years. Inventories for Japan-based manufacturers such as Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) and Honda Motor Co. may begin to dwindle next month, executives at the largest auto retailers said last week.

“We’re going to get a demand picture that should not be significantly affected by supply constraints, and that picture looks pretty good in spite of gas-price headwinds,” Itay Michaeli, an analyst at Citigroup Global Markets Inc. in New York, said in a telephone interview. The 13 million annual rate predicted by Citigroup is “a pretty good number with a backdrop to firmer industry pricing.”

Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, and its Japanese peers may begin to have shortages of new vehicles beginning this month and through the rest of the year, said Mike Jackson, chief executive officer of AutoNation Inc., the largest U.S. auto retailer. Weak supply may result in a 30 percent to 50 percent drop in deliveries of Japanese-brand vehicles this summer in the U.S., said Earl Hesterberg, CEO of Group 1 Automotive Inc.

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