Final Count: U.S. Automakers Make a Strong 2012 Exit

United States auto stocks are enjoying a boost on Thursday morning after releasing December car sales data. Expectations for the month were high and manufacturers did not disappoint.

What were the expectations?ford focus, a leader in price and trend forecasting, expected automakers to log 1.37 million new light vehicle sales in December, a 10.3 percent gain year over year, and a 19.9 percent gain month over month. This translates into a seasonally-adjusted annualized rate of 15.6 million units, 7.5 percent above the average annual rate of 14.5 million units for 2012.

General Motors (NYSE:GM) was expected to sell 236,374 units in December, a 0.9 percent year-over-year increase. GM maintains a dominant position in the U.S. with 17.2 percent market share.

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Ford (NYSE:F) has the second-largest presence in the U.S. market with a 15.7 percent share, and was expected to sell 214,978 units, a 2.6 percent year-over-year increase.

Japanese auto-maker Toyota (NYSE:TM), which commands a 13.7 percent share of the U.S. market, was expected to sell 188,298 units, a 5.7 percent year-over year increase.

Chrysler, with an 11 percent share of the U.S. market, was expected to sell 150,146 units, an 8.8 percent year-over year increase.

What was the reality?

GM reported its highest December sales in five years, smashing expectations with total sales up 4.9 percent year over year to 245,733 vehicles, and retail sales up 1.5 percent to 193,081 vehicles. Shares climbed as much as 2.2 percent on Thursday morning following the news.

Ford was pretty much in line with expectations, selling 214,222 total vehicles in December. Shares climbed as much as 2.6 percent following news that Ford was the only brand to top 2 million U.S. sales in 2012.

Toyota’s year-end sales preview shows a monthly sales gain of 9 percent to 194,143 vehicles, beating the expectation, but missing other forecasts calling for about 13 percent growth. Shares were off less than 1 percent in the morning.

Chrysler reported its best December since 2007, with sales growing 10 percent to 153,367 units and beating expectations.

December was a particularly strong month because manufacturers were able to reduce incentive spending while increasing sales, marking strong top- and bottom-line growth.

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