Last year was a record year for both the UK and Northern Ireland labour markets. Employment has never been higher and unemployment (for Northern Ireland) has never been lower. Given these labour market conditions one would assume that consumer confidence must be strong too? Not so. Previously having a job, or not having one, was a key determinant of whether a household or individual was in poverty. Over the last decade, however, a sustained period of below inflation wage growth and cuts to working-age welfare benefits has squeezed disposable incomes for those in work too.
November and December are traditionally the two quietest months of the year for new car sales. Last month’s sales were down almost 3% on the corresponding period in 2018. This continues the general downward trend in car sales since early to mid-2016. Looking at new car registrations year-to-date, sales fell by 2.7% during the eleven months to November to 49,457. That’s 125 fewer car sales per month relative to last year. Indeed, the latest SMMT statistics represent the weakest sales figures in seven years.
New car sales have started 2019 the same way as last year, according to the SMMT figures for Q1, with a drop in new registrations. While the number of new cars sold in March held up relative to a year ago, the quarterly total of 16,676 was still down 3% (524 fewer vehicle sales) below the corresponding quarter in 2018.
The make-up of carparks has long been a good indicator of trends in the domestic economy, given that cars are the biggest discretionary expenditure item after purchasing a home. But the car market has also become a key barometer of what is happening in the global economy, and trends in the sector now need to be closely watched to understand what’s going on.
Car sales stuck in reverse
One of the trends that we have been seeing in car sales is motorists shunning diesel vehicles for petrol and plug-in versions. But while consumer behaviour is changing in response to the eventual phasing out of diesel cars, we are also seeing overall sales volumes continuing to follow a downward trend. This highlights a lack of consumer confidence which in turn reflects a squeeze on household incomes. In short, new car sales have been in a state of managed decline over the last two years, and this appears to be continuing. Continue reading