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Are ‘cowboys’ helping save the US economy?

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Scott Olson | Getty Images

Cowboys are helping to prop up a lackluster U.S. economy, with pick-up truck sales providing outsized support, DBS said in a note Wednesday.

Sales of pickup trucks normally account for 1 percent of gross domestic product but in the third quarter of 2015, contributed to nearly 6 percent of all GDP growth, DBS estimates.

Most of the pickup trucks sold in the U.S. are also made domestically, providing a boost to employment and helping the net exports component of GDP.

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"Talk about punching outside one's weight. The cowboys are doing it big-time," DBS said.

In U.S. dollar terms, auto sales have been pretty lackluster, DBS said, calculating that in the third quarter, they fell 9 percent on-year in steady 2009 dollars to strip out any revaluations effects from the greenback's appreciation.

On a unit basis, through the end of the third quarter, auto sales have been fairly flat for years, but pick-up trucks are picking up the slack, it said.

"It's helping the economy because what cowboy worth his spurs would even think about buying an import," DBS said. "Eighty-five percent of all pickups are made in the good old U.S. of A and those who drive the other 15 percent probably do so at their peril and certainly their credibility. Some things you just don't import."

U.S. economic growth is certainly looking strained overall. In the third quarter, U.S. GDP rose 1.5 percent from a year earlier, slowing from the second quarter's 3.9 percent surge, according to Commerce Department data. That was slightly below expectations from a Reuters poll for third-quarter growth of 1.6 percent, as businesses drew down inventories.

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But in October, auto sales came in at 18.2 million, up from 16.6 million in the year-earlier month, Autodata said Tuesday. That beat expectations of 17.7 million from a Reuters poll of economists.

Ford Motor, for example, certainly benefited from a "cowboy" effect, with a 12 percent on-year rise in its F-Series pick-ups in October.

—Reem Nasr contributed to this article.