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Auto Sales Gains Expected in February

DETROIT ( TheStreet) -- Auto sales in February are expected to continue a pattern of steady growth over the past three years, with forecasters anticipating single-digit gains for the month despite mounting economic uncertainty.

TrueCar.com and Edmunds.com both estimate February new light-vehicle sales of about 1.2 million units, representing an increase of 4.3% to 5.7% over the same month a year earlier. The sales translate to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 15.7 million, up from 15.3 million in January and the highest February SAAR since 2007, TrueCar said. Edmunds estimated the SAAR at 15.5 million, while Jefferies estimated 15.2 million to 15.4 million.

Incentive spending is up 1.8% from January, TrueCar said.

"Car sales are persevering despite economic factors on people's minds like rising gas prices and the implementation of the payroll tax," said Edmunds.com analyst Jessica Caldwell, in a prepared statement. 'Pent-up demand and widespread access to credit are keeping up car sales momentum."

Pickup truck sales are fueling the overall gains, said TrueCar analyst Jesse Toprak.

"The unusual strength of the full-size truck segment in February helped industry sales to nearly reach the 15.7 million SAAR mark, despite gas prices increasing," he said, in a prepared statement. "Pent-up demand for pickup trucks by small businesses will be a critical factor in this year's continued sales recovery."

While sales are gaining, Jefferies analyst Peter Nesvold wrote that "our sense is that weaker consumer confidence could be a headwind. As the higher payroll tax took effect in January, consumers found themselves with lower take-home pay, putting a damper on spending.

"However, a car remains a necessity for most Americans, and fundamental demand drivers including an aged fleet, credit availability, and an improving housing sector remain in place," he wrote.

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