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Auto sales may have turned a corner despite coronavirus pandemic

U.S. auto sales have bounced back in recent months despite the coronavirus pandemic, with some brands even seeing their sales increase over 2019's numbers at this point in the year.

Why it matters: Cars and trucks were seen as one of the sectors that would be hardest hit as Americans were called to stay home from work and entertainment destinations were shuttered.


Driving the news: U.S. factory orders rose 6.2% in June, more than expected and boosted by a surge in demand for motor vehicles, after gaining 7.7% in May, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday.

  • Orders for motor vehicles and parts jumped 86.2%, with overall transportation equipment orders up 20.2% after a 78.8% climb the prior month.

Sales of Volvo, Mazda and Hyundai have all risen from 2019's levels this year, with Volvo charting a 10.3% increase over July 2019, its best July in 14 years.

  • Mazda sales are up 3.4%.
  • Hyundai reported a year-on-year gain of 0.6% in U.S. sales for July.
  • Kia's reported overall sales were down, but just 1.7% lower than last year's July tally.
  • Toyota sales last month fell 19% year over year, but the company notched its best month since February, before the pandemic shuttered North American production and led to closed showrooms across the country, Reuters reported.

Of note: Detroit's three carmakers posted better-than-expected earnings for the second quarter, despite two-month factory shutdowns, Axios' Joann Muller noted Friday, with each of the companies outperforming Wall Street expectations.

Yes, but: Factory orders overall remain well below their February level, and June's reading was 10.1% below June 2019's level.

  • Autos are expected to see a year-over-year volume decline of 25%-30%, according to IHS Markit principal automotive analyst Stephanie Brinley.
  • Additionally, economists warn that the rebound in auto sales could be threatened by recent increases of COVID-19 in southern and western states.

Yes, but, but: Investors are betting that the uncertainty will push more consumers to buy online from vendors like CarMax, Carvana and Vroom, which have spent billions building online platforms, digital networks and inventory for just this moment.

  • Vroom's stock is up nearly 25% since it debuted on the Nasdaq in early June.
  • During that time Carvana's stock is up more than 45% (and up over 80% year to date and 155% over the past year).
  • CarMax's stock has gained a little under 5% since early June — it's the largest used car dealer in the U.S. but has a significant brick-and-mortar presence, making investors concerned about pandemic-related disruptions.

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