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Some Positive Indicators for a Change, for U.S. Auto Sales

It's too early to celebrate, but a couple of additional pieces of positive news are starting to look like the beginning of a modest recovery in U.S. auto sales.

The seasonally adjusted annual sales rate for August is an estimated 12.6 million, thanks in part to "Cash for Clunkers," according to IHS Global Insight.

That's the highest SAAR since last September, according to Chris Hopson, senior market analyst, North American light vehicle sales, for the consulting and research firm's Global Automotive Group.

Separately, Brian Johnson, auto industry analyst for Barclays Capital, also predicted that the SAAR for August should "easily" reach at least 12 million units, after failing to reach 10 million all year.

Moreover, IHS Global Insight predicted in a briefing last week that the U.S. economy has hit bottom in 2009 and will return to positive growth in 2010.

"The good news is that we are at the bottom of the recession. The bad news is the hole is deep and it will take a long time to dig out, said George Magliano, director, North American automotive industry research for IHS Global Insight.

The firm expects the U.S. Gross Domestic Product to shrink 2.8 percent in 2009, versus 0.4 percent growth in 2008. Its estimate for 2010 is 1.1 percent growth; in 2011, a more robust 3.1 percent growth.

Meanwhile, the Federal Highway Administration reported separately that Americans logged more driving miles in its latest statistics, reversing a negative trend for the previous year and a half. That could be another indication of stronger demand for autos.

Chart: IHS Global Insight

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