- - Wednesday, January 2, 2013

DETROIT — A healthier economy and more model introductions should push U.S. auto sales above the 15 million mark this year, an auto industry research analyst predicts.

The Polk research company says auto sales should continue to lead the country’s economic recovery, rising nearly 7 percent compared with 2012 to 15.3 million new vehicle registrations.

Automakers release December and full-year sales for 2012 on Thursday. Analysts think sales reached 14.5 million last year, the strongest performance since 2007 — just before Americans felt the impact of the recession. Sales of more than 15 million are considered a sign of health for the auto industry and the economy, many analysts say.

Polk does not expect pre-recession sales levels of 17 million for several more years, Anthony Pratt, Polk’s forecasting director for the Americas, said Wednesday.


Polk expects 43 new models to be introduced this year, up 50 percent from last year. New models usually boost sales. The company also predicts a rebound in sales of large pickups and midsize cars.

But Polk’s optimistic forecast firm hinges on Washington reaching an agreement on spending cuts, which could happen later in the year. On New Year’s Day, Congress approved a compromise to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff.” The deal raises taxes for incomes exceeding $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples. But it delayed action on dramatic federal spending cuts and debt, setting up another showdown in a divided Congress.

ECONOMY

Manufacturing expanded slightly last month in U.S.

U.S. manufacturing grew slowly last month after shrinking in November and hiring increased. The modest gain suggests the economy entered the new year with some momentum.

The Institute for Supply Management said Wednesday that its index of manufacturing activity rose to 50.7 in December from 49.5 in the previous month. November’s reading was the lowest reading since July 2009, one month after the recession ended.

A reading above 50 signals expansion.

A measure of employment rose to the highest level in three months, suggesting that factories are adding jobs.

The closely watched survey was completed before Congress reached a deal to avoid the “fiscal cliff.”

The last-minute deal passed Tuesday averts widespread tax increases and delays deep spending cuts that had threatened to push the country back into recession. Still, most Americans will see some increase in taxes this year, which will likely slow consumer spending.

ENVIRONMENT

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