Higher auto prices are slowing US demand. As the chart shows, sales in May (red line) were back below the 1.1 million monthly level again. This used to be a minimum in the pre-2008 period. Now, with just a few exceptions, it seems to have become a maximum.
Of course, the rise in May’s average price to a record $29,817 will help chemical companies. They need to pass through Q1’s feedstock cost increases, if margins are to be preserved.
The continuing shift to smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles will also help boost demand for plastics and other products. The move to a New Normal is clearly now underway, with Ford, for example, reporting that sales of these were now 27% of total volume, versus 19% in 2010.
But worryingly for short-term volumes, we are likely to see a slow summer period. Unemployment is rising again. Japan’s problems are still reducing component supplies, with Toyota not expecting a return to full production before November. Whilst GM noted that price increases meant “consumers clearly sat on their hands”.