Monday, February 9, 2009

Consumption versus Capital Expenditures: The Auto Sector

As long time EPJ readers know, I view the downturn in the economy as a period when the economy is adjusting to a savings/consumption ratio that is not influenced by central bank money printing, thus the ratio tends to increase on the consumption side and decline on the savings side--since the Fed tends to pump money into the capital goods sector in general (i.e. capital goods versus the consumption side). That's why the capital good sector tends to get hit so hard during the downturn, the declines in housing, construction, autos etc.--all goods that are heavily financed by bank credit.

However, there are even distinctions in these broad-based categories. Which brings me to an interesting piece of data reported by the Association for Financial Professionals in their weekly report on the economy, EconWatch.

EconWatch dug deep into last weeks auto sales report and found this nugget:

Vehicle sales dropped below the 10 million mark (SAAR) in January for the 1st time since 1982. A closer look at the data shows that fleet sales dropped sharply as they represented only 12% of total sales versus 22% in December. Sales to consumers actually grew slightly during the month.
This data fits in nicely with my Consumption versus Capital Goods watch. Although, I generally lump auto sales as a capital good in that autos last over many years, it's understandable how, in a way, a fleet purchase is more of an intense capital good since it is mostly used by business in their efforts to create other goods [Thus, in many cases, it is more of a capital good than an auto purchased by a consumer--because it will take even longer for its value to reach a consumer, say a car fleet owned by a tool and dye manufacturer] , while a consumer auto purchase, while providing value over years, has generally speaking reached the final consumer.

Thus, one would expect fleet sales generally to be weaker than general auto sales, and, viola, as EconWatch reports, such was the case.

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