Carmageddon Crashes Into “The Recovery” Right On Schedule

 

Carmageddon, as Wolf Richter has called it, is hitting the US economy exactly as I said a year and a half ago  that it would start to happen at the very end of 2016 or the start of 2017. Measured year-on-year, auto sales have declined every month of 2017, and are now starting to cause the financial wreckage that I said we would experience in what will become a demolition derby for US auto manufacturers.

“A stretched auto consumer, falling used [vehicle] prices, and technological obsolescence of current cars are ingredients for an unprecedented buyer’s strike,” wrote Morgan Stanley’s auto analyst Adam Jonas in a note to clients. (Wolf Street)

Stanley now foresees a “multiyear cyclical decline,” along with a declining “willingness of financial institutions to lend as aggressively as in the past.”

After an eight-year boom, the industry appears “to be hitting a point of diminishing returns where the tactics required to attract the incremental consumer may be putting even more pressure on the second-hand market, leading to adverse conditions for selling new vehicles….” not even record incentives, reaching $14,000 for some truck models, have much impact. Those are the “diminishing returns” – when you throw gobs of money at a problem and it doesn’t have much impact. Lenders, particularly the captives, stepped forward, making loans with very long terms, low and often subsidized interest rates (“0% financing”), sky-high loan-to-value ratios, and leases that gambled on very high residual values that have now gone up in smoke as used vehicle prices are heading south.

How many times have readers here heard me stress the economic Law of Diminishing Returns that economists and bankers and CEOs are almost universally ignoring. This exact scenario, you may recall, is what I said would happen this year, only I said it in January, 2016, year before it began:

Auto-traders are auto-traitors

I’m speaking here of the financiers and the manufacturers, not the buyers. Auto sales are at a record high, and some look to that as evidence that the US economy is strong. I would say, instead, it is the exception that proves the rule. It is one more part of the problem because that accounting is all baloney, and baloney is why most of the world’s economic experts don’t see any of this coming. They believe their own baloney.

You have to consider what factors have taken auto sales to these supposedly soaring heights. In part, it’s consumer confidence, which is a positive tail wind for the economy; but terms of credit on automobiles have been extended out to all-time extremes, too, of seven years on a highly depreciable asset. Down payments have, as they were just before the Great Recession, been minimized, as has interest. Most of all, most of these sales are not sales at all. The industry now leases far more cars than it sells.

You have to wonder why so many economists are blind to how significant all of that is and to what it means. So blind, in fact, that they point to auto sales as an indicator of a strong economy when it is the same mess we saw in the Great Recession. Apparently economists are incapable of learning anything.So, the biggest scare here is how blind it proves the experts are who guide the economy.

Has anyone forgotten what supported auto sales in the year before the Great Recession? Zero interest, zero down, and zero payments for a year. At the time, I was asking, “What’s their end game? Where do they go from here now that they’ve spent the year giving away one-year leases because people can return all these cars at no loss?

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