Income tax refunds, easy credit buoy used-vehicle prices

Used-vehicle prices, bolstered by consumers using their income tax refunds to buy used cars and trucks, rose 0.8 percent in February from January and 1.1 percent from February 2013, the Manheim Used Vehicle Value Index showed today.

The index -- adjusted for vehicle make, model, mileage and time of year -- stood at 123.3 in February, up from 122.3 in January and 122 in February 2013.

Manheim said that the IRS had processed 40.4 million tax refunds through Feb. 21, up 6 percent from the same time last year. Those refunds totaled $125.8 billion with the average refund increasing 4 percent to $3,112.

“A surge in individual income tax refund disbursements in late January and early February played a role in propping up wholesale values last month,” the auction company’s consulting arm wrote in a commentary accompanying the index.

“In addition, readily available retail financing (at attractive terms) made the used-vehicle retail market more profitable than the underlying unit sale numbers would suggest,” the commentary said.

Citing data from CNW Research, the commentary said total used retail sales in February slipped 1 percent from a year earlier and 12 percent from January 2014 to 2.05 million units.

Looking at vehicle segments, the average price of used compact cars in February fell 3 percent from February 2013 as a result of ample supplies and pricing competition from their counterparts in the new-car market, the commentary noted.

But prices of used pickups rose 8 percent from a year earlier because of high demand and tight supplies.

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