U.S. DECEMBER AUTO SALES SURPRISINGLY STRONG, 2016 SETS NEW HIGH

[1/5/17]  U.S. sales of new cars and trucks hit a record high in 2016, automakers said on Wednesday, and investors bid up shares in the sector as strong consumer confidence and relatively low fuel prices bolstered the industry’s outlook.

Shares of General Motors Co (GM.N) rose 5.5 percent and Ford Motor Co <F.N) stock rose 4.6 percent, far outpacing the wider Dow Jones Industrial Average, which was up only 0.3 percent.

Autodata Corp said 2016 U.S. auto sales of 17.55 million were 0.4 percent higher than the previous record set in 2015.

December sales rose 3 percent, and on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis were 18.43 million vehicles, Autodata said. That widely beat expectations of economists polled by Thomson Reuters of 17.7 million vehicles.

 The results prompted executives from the three biggest sellers in the U.S. market, GM, Ford, and Toyota Motor Corp, (7203.T), to predict that this year’s sales will be near 2016’s record levels.

U.S. consumer confidence reached levels not seen in 15 years in December. Auto sales are an early indicator of consumer spending, and account for about a fifth of U.S. retail spending.

GM’s December sales rose 10 percent, Ford was up 0.3 percent and Toyota increased 2 percent. All three automakers’ results, lifted by strong demand for pickup trucks and SUVs, beat Wall Street expectations.