Thursday, August 8, 2013

8/8/2013: Cars licensing numbers for July are just not that spectacular

Latest data on new vehicles licensing data for Ireland was out today with bombastic headlines (see release here: http://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/er/vlftm/vehicleslicensedforthefirsttimejuly2013/#.UgPQ0GQmlF8).

So what is really going on in the data? Let me just recap what you will see below in a neat summary:
  1. Increases in new licenses in July are real, but are most likely driven by timing underlying 131 vs 132 plates introduction.
  2. Increases in July licensing numbers are not a signal of any significant improvement in the motor trade fortunes in Ireland.
  3. Caution and patience (until we see full year numbers for 2013) are warranted on foot of total new licenses issued in January-July period of 2013 compared to past years numbers.

On a monthly basis, things are looking massively good, as the CSO release clearly indicates that 9,306 new private cars were licensed in July 2013, compared with 6,164 a year ago, an increase of 51.0% y/y - massive and strongly suggestive of some huge turnaround in demand. It should be noted that the 132 number plate was introduced from the 1st July 2013 (see note below).

That was the 'good' news. Was it really dramatic? Not if you look at the entire history of sales:



The only thing that was extraordinary about the July licensing figures was that in a historical context, these were not that extraordinary at all. Let's run through some numbers in more details:
  • Year on year, all vehicles new licensing rose 43.9% in July 2013. These were also up 29.1% on July 2011 and 25.1% on July 2010.
  • Alas, cumulative sales for 3 months May-July 2013 were down 13.9% on cumulative sales for 3 months of February-April 2013 although they were up 11.7% y/y. Good rise y/y but not as dramatic as 43.9%. 
  • July 2013 licenses came in at 10.2% below the monthly average for January 2000-present, putting some cold icy water between the headlines reported and actual levels achieved.
  • New private cars licensing was up, as noted above 50.8% in July 2013 compared to July 2012, but 3mo cumulative licensing numbers for new private cars were down 30.6% for the period of May-July 2013 compared to February-April 2013, although these were up 0.32% y/y.
  • Let's think in monthly volumes terms: July 2013 licensing numbers were highest in only 4 months for all vehicles and new vehicles, and in new private cars, and in only 2 months for goods vehicles. I don't see drama here, folks. Just none...

Aside: the number of new goods vehicles licensed in July 2013 was 953, down 6.2% from July 2012 and these signal activity (or lack thereof) in SMEs sector.

But back to core numbers. The omitted news is that monthly sales might tell us something, but they don't tell us as much as we would like them to. The reason for this is that possibly July 2013 was the month when buyers hunting for 132 plates came into the market, having delayed their purchases from prior months. To correct for this we need to look at y/y comparatives for cumulative licensing January-July. For the sake of taking a short-cut, let's just look at data from January 2000 through latest. Chart below plots this data:


As you can see from the above, things are not getting better in the market, at least not so far. In January-July 2013, 
  • Licensing of all vehicles declined 0.34% on 2012 and was down 11.8% on 2011. It was down 37.5% on average for the first seven months of the year for the period 2000-present and was down 5.45% on average for the crisis period from 2009 through present. Conclusion: January-July 2013 all vehicles licenses are down not up y/y and are running below the crisis period average.
  • Licensing of new vehicles (private and goods vehicles) declined 9.6% on 2012 and was down 20.5% on 2011. It was down 48.5% on average for the first seven months of the year for the period 2000-present and was down 6.6% on average for the crisis period from 2009 through present. Conclusion: January-July 2013 all new vehicles licenses are down not up y/y and are running below the crisis period average.
  • Licensing of new private vehicles declined 9.7% on 2012 and was down 22.8% on 2011. It was down 46.7% on average for the first seven months of the year for the period 2000-present and was down 6.7% on average for the crisis period from 2009 through present. Conclusion: January-July 2013 new private vehicles licenses are down not up y/y and are running below the crisis period average.
  • Licensing of goods vehicles declined 9.6% on 2012 and was down 9.2% on 2011. It was down 62.3% on average for the first seven months of the year for the period 2000-present and was down 4.8% on average for the crisis period from 2009 through present. Conclusion: January-July 2013 goods vehicles licenses are down not up y/y and are running below the crisis period average.
I am not so sure we should be rushing out to congratulate our motors trade for delivering a magic turnaround on the above numbers, although we should stay cautious in terms of interpreting the overall sales until we have full year picture. Thus: caution, not celebration, is in order.


Note: Some are telling me that the industry is benefiting from 'spreading' the demand more evenly across the year under the new registration plates. In other words, allegedly, the industry was lobbying to introduce the 131 and 132 plates in order to reduce the rush of buyers in the first half of the year that took place under the original 13 plates (full-year plates) and transfer that 'surplus' demand to the second half of the year. This makes little sense to me. Suppose you transfer some sales from H1 into H2 (i.e. delay them by up to 6 months). What does this imply? By the time you do sell these 'spread-out' vehicles that you normally would have sold in H1, the money you do receive from the sales have been devalued by up to 6 months of inflation and you have incurred an opportunity cost of losing the interest on earnings that would have accrued were you to sell these 'spread-out' vehicles in H1. Is the motor trade sector that dumb? I don't think so. 

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