Comerica Sees Slow Rebound for U.S. Auto Sales in 2010

Last Updated Sep 23, 2009 9:00 AM EDT

U.S. auto sales may backslide in the fourth quarter of 2009, but the seasonally adjusted annual sales rate should slowly recover throughout 2010, according to Dana Johnson, chief economist for Comerica Bank.

Next year, U.S. auto sales should top 13 million cars and trucks, Johnson said in an analysis for investors earlier this week, recapping the last year since financial markets collapsed.

"Looking ahead, improving credit availability likely will support a stronger rebound than the consensus is now forecasting. To be sure, spending vast amounts of money to rescue our financial institutions has been hugely unpopular. But, in fact, it has been money well spent," he said.

The credit crisis last fall turned what was already a sharp downturn in U.S. auto sales, driven by high gas prices, into a disaster that drove Chrysler and General Motors into bankruptcy.

Separately, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said in a speech at the Brookings Institution last week that the U.S. recession is "very likely over," but Bernanke said it may not feel that way to consumers for a while, because the recovery will be slow.

Specifically, Bernanke said, "... even though from a technical perspective the recession is very likely over at this point, it's still going to feel like a very weak economy for some time as many people will still find that their job security and their employment status is not what they wish it was, and so that's a challenge for us and all policy-makers going forward."

In a written analysis, Comerica's Johnson said one of the lessons learned from the latest recession is, "Financial markets cannot be relied on to self- regulate themselves."

He said successful regulation should, "increase transparency, reduce complexity, and appropriately align the interests of investors both with rating agencies and with originators."

Chart: Comerica data, Bnet Autos graphic