Sunday, August 23, 2009

Out of cash, not clunkers. Now what?

If you think about it, you can still make a buck off the government's cash for clunkers plan, even though the formal program ends soon.

Just go back to what you were doing before. Wait for prices to drop or your income prospects to rise into your comfort zone. Your selection is smaller now, but better deals and bigger rebates are dead ahead, according to SmartMoney's Aleksandra Todorova.

The new cars will still be there. chief executive Jeremy Anwyl predicts sales may drop back to what they would have been anyway for 2009. After selling months' worth of cars in just a few weeks, traffic will become very s-l-o-w around your neighborhood car lot, according to forecasters from New York to Los Angeles.

The program has changed how cars are sold, at least for awhile, say analysts at who poked beneath the initial sales numbers. What's next, they aren't so sure.

It has probably hurt consumers, argues Steve Petty, a California clergyman who calculates consumers went $6 billion deeper into debt to pick up $2 billion in rebates. He likens the program to enabling an alcoholic --Detroit, not consumers.

Meantime, retailers who don't sell cars may be glad the program is over. Both the National Retail Federation and the International Council of Shopping Centers have reported dismal retail sales for July, when their customers started heading for car showrooms instead. Some believe that will be hard traffic for retailers to rebuild now that 700,000 motorists or so all have new car payments to make.

I thought about that when I bought some socks earlier today. I didn't need them right away, but I had a $10 use-it-or-lose-it coupon that was expiring. The $10.95 package of socks seemed reasonable. There were no lines at the checkout and lots of parking around the store. It could be another hard candy Christmas at the mall.

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