AutoNation’s CEO warns of used-car price drop as rising rates curb demand

AutoNation Inc., the biggest U.S. chain of car dealerships, warned that used-vehicle prices are softening as rising interest rates curb demand from more price-sensitive buyers.

The company said Thursday that third-quarter earnings rose to $6 a share excluding some items. That was below the $6.29 a share average of analysts’ estimates. Revenue increased 4% to $6.67 billion, roughly in line with the average of Wall Street projections.

Mike Manley, who took over as chief executive of AutoNation a year ago, said he’s been aggressively turning over his portfolio of used cars to make sure he doesn’t get stuck selling them for less than he paid.

“We’re beginning to see used-car prices mitigate with faster depreciation” among mainstream and budget cars, Manley said in an interview. “We benefit from the mix of our portfolio being premium luxury.”

Separately, Hertz Global Holdings Inc. said Thursday that its depreciation costs jumped in the third quarter, reflecting the decline in prices its used cars fetch at auction. Still, the rental-car company narrowly beat Wall Street’s estimates for profit in the period.

AutoNation’s CEO said new-vehicle inventory is still tight, despite the chip shortage beginning to ease, and there is strong, pent-up demand for vehicles priced above $30,000.

“It’s easing rather than becoming a glut,” he said.

New-car inventory will remain below pre-pandemic levels next year as automakers try to preserve margins to pay for electrification, Manley said on an earnings call Thursday.

In the used-car market, it’s just a matter of time before weaker prices at car auctions filter through to the retail market, pressuring margins for dealers, he said.

Last month, used-car retailer CarMax Inc. said profit from wholesale vehicles dropped 30% in its second quarter as buyers encountered “affordability challenges” and its bank of used cars depreciated.

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