Auto Sales Preview: All Signs Go

DETROIT ( TheStreet) -- Automakers are expected to report continuing positive sales trends for December when the month's sales figures are released Tuesday.

Truecar.com has estimated that December light vehicle sales will total 1.1 million units, up 7% from the same month a year earlier and up 27% from November 2010. That translates to a seasonally-adjusted annualized rate of 12.12 million.

For the full year, U.S. light vehicle sales are expected to total 11.5 million, up from 10.4 million in 2009, the worst total since 10.4 million in 1982. Sales are widely expected to rise this year, with J.D. Power & Associates estimating sales near 13 million and some estimates as high as 15 million. Between 2000 and 2007, sales averaged 16.8 million a year.

"Consumer confidence is rising and there is a lot of pent-up demand in the market," said Jesse Toprak, True.Car.com analyst, in a prepared statement. "The retail market continues to improve which bodes well for the automotive industry heading into 2011."

Auto shares were rising along with the market on Monday morning, not surprisingly since auto sales are both an economic indicator and an economic stimulant. "If you believe the U.S. economy can continue to expand in 2011 and beyond, look at the shares of General Motors ( GM) to provide leveraged exposure," wrote ConvergEx Group strategist Nicholas Colas in a recent report.

TrueCar.com expects a GM sales increase of 1.9%, with Ford ( F) sales increasing by 6.3%.

In mid-morning trading, shares of GM were up 69 cents to $37.55, close to the high since GM returned to the public markets in November. Ford stock was up 37 cents to $17.16.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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