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Economy in Brief

European Car Registrations Press Higher
by Robert Brusca  February 16, 2017

European car registration rose 4.1% in January, building on a small gain registered in December. Registrations as well as the three-month moving average of registrations are showing strong, accelerating gains from 12-month to six-month to three-month. The simple 12-month gain is at 11.2%; the gain for the associated moving average is at 6%.

A broad acceleration
Each of the countries identified in the table also shows accelerating sales on this three-period comparison with one exception. The U.K. shows sales slowing over three-month compared to six-month. It also shows a small gain in registrations in January after an outright drop in December. Vehicle registrations in the U.K. have been very strong for some time. But now the U.K. is facing its Brexit uncertainty and the pound sterling has dropped sharply.

The chart shows that the gains in vehicle registrations and retail sales levels have been expanding more or less together. In recent months, vehicle registrations have slowed a bit more than retail sales. However, both series have a good deal of volatility and both still appear to be on solid expansion paths.

Robust? Not yet, but sales shift more to 'ro' and less to 'bust'
Retail sales levels have finally exceeded their level in the pre-crisis period. But vehicle registrations remain well below the peak and ordinary levels of activity that used to prevail in Europe.

Weak yes but not forever...
On balance, vehicle registrations and retail sales tell a good story of what the European recovery has been like. After all this time, and even with ongoing population growth, vehicle registrations remain significantly below pre-cycle levels of activity, a testament to Europe not being back all the way to a normal environment. Although retail sales levels have surpassed their past peak, this is a very weak performance implying extremely weak average percentage gains in sales over the last eight years. Indeed, for most of the last eight years, retail sales have contracted relative to their peak sales levels. Even now calculating sales on a moving base, year-over-year sales are lethargic. That sums up the European situation. There is growth, but it is lethargic. And still oil prices are pressing higher that is raising inflation, but core inflation remains largely unaffected. The ECB is being pressed to begin to consider unwinding its supportive monetary policies. Mario Draghi is not yet ready to do that. But clearly the times they are a changing. Growth in the U.S. is showing signs of firming as well. There is evidence of not just a European upswing, but of something more global in nature. If that stays in gear, it will be a game changer for policy.

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