Auto Trader defies car sale gloom with sales and profit boost

Auto Trader has continued to defy the gloom in the UK car market with a boost in profits and sales, as bosses revealed more professional car sellers have joined the site.

The company said revenues for the six months to September 30 jumped 6% to £186.7 million, with pre-tax profits up 12% to £127.7 million – sending shares up 16.6p to 565.4p.

Chief executive Trevor Mather said: “We continue to be the clear market leader in used cars and have extended this into new cars, with over 30,000 brand new cars on Auto Trader being viewed by 1.6 million people in September alone.

“Despite ongoing market uncertainty, the board is confident of meeting its growth expectations for the year.”

He revealed the number of cars on its website was up 10% on the same period last year, with 481,000 available.

The vast majority remain used vehicles – up 3% to 448,000 – but new car offerings are growing significantly.

Average revenue per retailer per month, a key measure for Auto Trader, was up £125 or 7% to £1,951, with growth from product and price offsetting a small decline in paid retailer stock.

But investors and analysts were most impressed with the increase in retailer forecourts joining Auto Trader – up 1% to 13,316, driven by smaller traders joining the platform.

Analyst Jessica Pok, at Peel Hunt, said: “Even though there was a small decline in stock, there was good growth from product and price. What was unexpected was that retailer forecourts has increased by 1% to 13,316, driven by acquisitions of smaller retailers.”

Auto Trader added it had suffered from the ongoing political and economic uncertainty the Brexit delays have caused.

It said: “Over the last six months, the new and used car markets have continued to be affected by the ongoing Brexit negotiations as consumers delay big-ticket purchases.

“Other industry-specific issues, such as the worldwide harmonised light vehicle test procedure (WLTP) and real driving emissions test (RDE) measures, have also posed challenges as both have adversely affected supply of some vehicles and therefore sales.”

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), new car registrations fell between April and September by 2.6%, although Auto Trader said there was increased demanded for electric and hybrid vehicles.

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