Detroit (TheStreet) -- Auto sales were flat in February, but automakers and analysts blamed the weather for the third straight month of flat or lower sales and looked to March for a boost.
Trading in shares of the two publicly traded Detroit automakers reflected optimism. GM (GM) shares had a good day Monday, rising in a down market. The shares gained 1 cent to close at $36.21. Year-to-date after Monday's close, GM shares were down 11.4%, while the S&P 500 was flat for the year.
Ford (F) shares fell 19 cents on Monday to close at $15.20, down 1.5% for the year. But Ford shares were rising and among the most active in pre-market trading Tuesday. Minutes after the opening, Ford was trading up 11 cents at $15.31 and GM was up 31 cents to $36.52.
In a report issued Tuesday, JPMorgan analyst Ryan Brinkman referred to a "month-end surge" in February sales and said he expects a strong March. "We are encouraged by commentary from both GM and Ford on the cadence of sales throughout the month, with sharp improvement toward month-end, the portion of the month in which weather was least harsh," he wrote.
Brinkman wrote that the 1% decline in GM sales was far better than the consensus estimate of an 8.4% decline. He noted the slowdown in the rate of year-over-year decline in closely watched pickup sales -- Combined Silverado and GMC Sierra sales fell 8.9% in February compared with a decline of 17.1% in January and 9.4% in December. Brinkman said GM pickup sales benefited from "an incentives campaign that captured disproportionate consumer attention while representing only modestly higher cost to the company."