February’s data on US auto sales contained good news, and not such good news, for the chemical industry.
• The good news was that sales were relatively strong, as the chart shows (red line), although still below levels seen in the 2005-8 period (black line).
• And higher oil prices are supporting sales of more efficient autos. This should increase polymer sales, as steel and glass is replaced.
• The not such good news was that companies are still using heavy discounts to boost sales:
o GM continued to offer major incentives, plus cheap financing.
o Toyota was also offering large incentives, which will no doubt continue into March, as it seeks to counter news of a further 2.2 million vehicle recall.
This suggests the US auto industry is still suffering from a lack of pricing power, in spite of all the $bns spent in restructuring. This will not make it easy for chemical companies to push through further feedstock-related increases for its raw materials.