U.S. February auto sales jump, no sign of slowdown

U.S. February auto sales soared to a 15-year high for the month, carmakers reported on Tuesday, in the latest sign of continued consumer confidence.

Auto sales last month rose about 8 percent, helped by low gasoline prices, available and low-interest credit and higher wages.

Despite gloomy talk about the economy on the U.S. presidential campaign trail, auto sales and other data released on Tuesday indicated the economy was regaining momentum.

Analysts have expressed concerns about a cyclical fall-off in vehicle sales after sustained gains since the 2008-2009 deep recession, but there were no signs of a slowdown.

Ford Motor's sales rose 20 percent as its SUV and crossover vehicles soared 28 percent from last February. F-Series pickup trucks, tops in U.S. sales for more than three decades, gained 10 percent.

Ford, No. 2 in U.S. auto sales, said cars jumped 19 percent, led by its Focus compact. Its stock was up 4.7 percent at $13.10.

No. 1 General Motors reported that sales fell 1.5 percent. They would have been higher, GM said, if it did not cut shipments to rental companies by 16,500, or 39 percent, from a year earlier. GM shares were up 1.4 percent at $29.84.

Toyota Motor, No. 3 in the U.S. market, said sales rose 4.1 percent in the month. Its ADRs were up 2 percent to $106.11.

GM forecast annualized industry sales for February at 17.7 million vehicles.

Jesse Hurwitz, a Barclays economist, said the strong auto sales indicated that "U.S. households fundamentally remain healthy. Labor markets have continued to improve, wages have started to rise modestly ... and that all wraps up into healthier household income."

Sam Bullard, a Wells Fargo economist, said the auto sales showed the consumer continued to be a bright spot in the economy. Auto sales are an early indicator each month of consumer spending.

"Consumers, while still cautious overall, are confident enough in their own personal economic situation and the outlook to be able to purchase a car," Bullard said.

U.S. manufacturing activity contracted in February, but there were signs the embattled sector was stabilizing. Also, construction spending surged in January to the highest since 2007.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles U.S. auto sales rose 12 percent as the carmaker on strength in its Jeep SUV and Ram trucks. Shares were up 6.3 percent at $7.28.

Sales at Honda Motor, including its Acura brand, jumped 13 percent, boosted by mainstays Accord, Civic and CR-V. The ADRs jumped 3.2 percent to $26.53.

Nissan Motor sales were up 10.5 percent.

But Volkswagen sales, including its VW and Audi brands, fell 8 perce

nt. VW brand sales fell 13 percent and Audi rose 2 percent.

Last year, U.S. auto sales hit a record 17.4 million vehicles.

January U.S. auto sales on an annualized basis were 17.46 million, according to WardsAuto data.

OFFICIAL CORRECTION: This story has been updated after Toyota updated its sales figures.