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Pump Prices to Edge up After Attack on Iranian General, but Long-Term Effect Unclear

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By Jeff Ostrowski, The Palm Beach Post, Fla.

Motorists soon will see the effects of President Donald Trump’s decision to kill a prominent Iranian general. Whether pump prices rise a little or a lot depends on how quickly international tensions intensify.

Florida gas prices climbed an average of 7 cents a gallon in the past three days and could increase an additional 5 cents, AAA – The Auto Club Group said Monday.

The 7-cent increase was coming even before the U.S. air strike Thursday that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani. That hike was a result of a rise in the price of crude oil in December.

News of the targeted killing of Soleimani sent crude oil surging nearly $2 per barrel on Friday. An increase of that magnitude typically translates to a 5-cent hike at the pump, AAA said.

The U.S. benchmark for crude oil traded Monday just above $63 per barrel, the highest level since May 2019. The price of oil makes up about half the price of a gallon of gas.

“What happens in the Middle East can have a direct impact on Americans’ daily lives by influencing what they pay at the pump,” said AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins. “Crude prices rise when there’s a threat of war, because of concerns over how the conflict could hamper supply and demand.”

Oil analyst Tom Kloza of energy firm OPIS agreed that pump prices in Florida likely will rise about 5 cents a gallon in the coming days.

“Then I have a hunch that things are going to calm down,” Kloza said Monday. “I don’t think we’re looking at $3 gas.”

The national average pump price Sunday was $2.585, while the Florida average was $2.526, AAA said.

Kloza expects only modest increases in part because of the timing of the attack. January is always a slow month for gas consumption in the United States.

There’s also the reality that sanctions leave Iran unable to export oil. Complicating the calculus is Iraq’s response to the U.S. attack. The drone strike on Soleimani took place in Baghdad, and some Iraqi politicians considered the assault an affront to Iraqi sovereignty.

While there’s no Iranian oil supply to be disrupted by a war, Iraq is an important producer.

Trump keenly watches oil prices and realizes that a price spike might erode his support in this year’s presidential election, Kloza said.

At the same time, Kloza added, “This president has proven to be unpredictable.”

Trump’s response has been typically uneven. Delivering an official statement at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Trump’s tone was measured. He said the targeted killing was designed to pre-empt Soleimani’s planned attacks on American diplomats and soldiers.

“We took action last night to stop a war,” Trump said Friday. “We did not take action to start a war.”

However, over the weekend, Trump took to Twitter to threaten attacks on Iranian cultural sites.

“The United States just spent Two Trillion Dollars on Military Equipment,” Trump wrote Sunday on Twitter. “We are the biggest and by far the BEST in the World! If Iran attacks an American Base, or any American, we will be sending some of that brand new beautiful equipment their way…and without hesitation!”

##IFRAME_1##Iran has vowed vengeance, but military experts say the nation isn’t powerful enough to wage a direct war against the U.S.

“It’s still far too early to know how much of an impact this conflict will have overall on prices at the pump,” AAA’s Jenkins said.

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Tesla Keeps Streak Intact, Posts Profitable 3rd Quarter

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The winning streak continues Tesla posts a profitable 3rd quarter, it’s fifth consecutive. The EV company posted a net profit of $331 million for the three-month period ended Sept. 30. Tesla also confirmed its goal of delivering 500,000 vehicles within the year. CEO Elon Musk calls the latest quarter as Tesla’s “best quarter in history.” The company posted a record of $8.77 billion in revenue against estimates of $8.28 billion. This is an increase of 39% from a year ago. Analysts surveyed by FactSet expected sales of $8.28 billion. Shares went up over 3% at about $438 in after-hours trading. Since January, Tesla shares have grown 500%.

RELATED: Tesla To Sell New Stock To Raise $5 Billion Capital

500,000 Deliveries on Target

Despite the pandemic, the company will proceed with its original goal of 500,000 cars in 2020. In a statement, Tesla affirmed its goal. “While achieving this goal has become more difficult, delivering half a million vehicles in 2020 remains our target,” it said. This entails building more cars at its Shanghai factory, and improvements in logistics and delivery.

Earlier in October, Tesla reported 139,593 vehicle deliveries in the quarter. This places the 500,000 targets is within reach. Model 3 and Model Y took up the bulk of deliveries and growth during the period. The more expensive Models S and X dropped by 12% compared to 2019. As such, Tesla started slashing prices for its higher-end models to increase demand. The Model S reduced its prices twice to $69,420.

China Remains the Crucial Market

China remains the key market for Tesla’s profitable 3rd quarter. Tesla’s auto sales in China climbed nearly 13% in September, their sixth straight monthly gain. The company’s Shanghai Gigafactory raised production due to demand. Demand for the Model 3, especially in China, led to a retooling. From 150,000 units per year, it now handles 250,000.

China’s “Golden September, Silver October” is the country’s high point in car purchases. Sales reached 2.57 million vehicles last month. The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) said that sales were still down.  For 2020, 17.12 million vehicles got sold, which is 6.9% below last year. 

Electric vehicles enjoyed brisk sales during the period. Sales increased by 67.7% to 138,000, which is the third straight month of gain. Tesla reduced its Model 3 prices by 8%, down to 249,900 yuan ($36,805).

Based on September sales, the momentum looks to carry over to October. Haitong International analyst Shi Ji expects even better numbers this month. He said: “Based on our dealer channel checks, the growth in momentum extended into the October Golden Week, as retail sales exceeded dealers’ expectations”

A Decrease in Credit Sales

While revenue rose, regulatory credits fell down from $428 million to $397 million. Ben Kallo of RW Baird observed that “Regulatory credits are a big part of the EPS beat. But that’s part of the game: Tesla’s competitors are paying them, and Tesla is reinvesting that into their factories in Berlin and Texas.”

Tesla generates extra income by selling credits. Manufacturers buy these credits to comply with carbon-emissions standards. They come from all over California, Europe, and other areas. Investors prefer seeing profits from the core business of selling cars. A Bloomberg analyst thinks that the S&P snub might be due to credit sales. Analyst Michael Dean noted “question marks about the sustainability of regulatory emission-credit sales, which are currently underpinning earnings.”

For 2021, Tesla aimed for even more increases in production. This includes its all-electric semitrailer truck and its pickup truck. The company hopes to get more cars out of its China factory. It also expects its newest plants in Berlin and Texas to start churning cars. Musk estimates the 2021 production could reach 840,000 to 1 million vehicles.

The company also laid out plans during its recent “Battery Day” event. Musk announced that the company will start making its own “tabless” batteries. These batteries improve the cars’ range and power. The improvements will help bring down the cost to produce a car. Soon, Tesla hopes to launch a vehicle priced under $25,000.

Watch this as Yahoo! Finance reports on Tesla earnings: Tesla posts a profitable 3rd quarter, it’s fifth consecutive and EPS estimates:

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US Auto Sales Picked up in the 3rd Quarter

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It’s still a long road to recovery, but the road trip already started. The U.S. automobile industry reported that auto sales picked up in the third quarter. Now, US auto manufacturers are rushing to build more cars and refill inventories. Total auto sales remain lower compared to the same time last year. But analysts noted that the selling pace in September neared 2019 levels. Compared to near-zero sales earlier when the pandemic hit, this is a godsend.  

RELATED: Tesla To Sell New Stock To Raise $5 Billion Capital

At the forefront of the resurgence are trucks and sport utility vehicles. Both are making a strong comeback in increasing numbers. Add a growing trend of urban residents who are now buying cars again. These are the ones who used to commute due to traffic and distance. With coronavirus-threatening commuters riding mass transportation, cars are now a safer option. 

GM, Chrysler Sales Picking Up

Edmunds.com said that while the US auto industry remains down, it’s still way better than April-June. The car buyer website says that the total industry is down 11% this past quarter. While still negative, this is a big recovery from the 31% loss in the 2nd quarter.  

General Motors Co. reported that its 3rd quarter U.S. sales is down almost 10% compared to last year. During the previous quarter, the company suffered a 34% drop. All its US factories shut down due to fears of coronavirus infection. Today, production returned to its pre-pandemic rate. Pre-corona cost-cutting measures and demand for large pickups helped boost profits. 

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles reported a similar 10% drop in the same period. For the June quarter, it reported a 39% decrease in sales. Others such as Ford and Tesla have scheduled their sales reports later this week. 

Among the imports, South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Co. reported that its U.S. sales increased 5.4% in September vs 2019. Sales dropped only 1% in the third quarter. Toyota’s third-quarter U.S. sales were down almost 11% over the same period. The company posted a 16% gain in September, thanks to its Rav 4 and Highlander SUVs. Honda Motor Co’s third-quarter sales fell 9.5%, but it reported a similar 12% spike in September. Nissan, which relies on fleet purchases, said its sales were down 32% during the 3rd quarter. 

Factory Shutdowns led to Higher Prices 

The coronavirus pandemic shuttered manufacturing plants and sent workers home. Factory shutdowns earlier this year limited inventory. Instead of depending on fleet purchases, demand is now centered on individual consumers. Edmunds forecasts fleet sales to shrink to 11% of new car purchases in the 3rd quarter. Last year, fleet sales accounted for 17% during the same period. 

With demand rising the shortage is now palpable. Smart dealers removed discounts and promos as buyers competed for remaining stocks. A higher sticker price helps increase profitability for many dealers. Even if sales numbers are down, profits are higher. 

More affordable payment terms due to lower interest also helped increase the demand. This includes a mind-boggling 0% for 84 months payment plan. Dealers also offered payment deferral and job assurance programs.

Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds Executive Director – insights, says hard-working Americans saved the industry. She said: “Most of the doomsday scenarios forecasted at the beginning of the pandemic, fortunately, did not hold true… the American consumer stepped up to become one of the many heroes in this chapter of resilience for the automotive industry.” 

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The auto industry benefited from many good breaks during the pandemic. The shutdown of auto plants caused a major loss of employment but helped them save money. This also limited the inventory, which spurred demand. It allowed dealers to sell without the need for promos or discounts. With the coronavirus threat, most people stopped public commuting and drove cars instead. Finally, lower interest rates gave rise to attractive payment terms. This attracted customers who resisted buying new vehicles due to interest rates. All these led to a resurgence in the 3rd quarter as auto sales picked up. 

Now, buying a car has never been as attractive as now.

Watch this as CNBC reports that total auto sales for September are estimated at 15.9 million vehicles:

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California To Ban Gas Cars

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California To Ban Gasoline and Diesel Cars by 2035

California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) signed an order that California bans gas cars by 2035. The ban only covers sales of vehicles, but it remains one of the boldest US measures made to fight climate.

RELATED: Tesla To Sell New Stock To Raise $5 Billion Capital

The executive order requires all new vehicles sold in the state to be zero-emission by 2035. This includes battery-powered, hydrogen fuel cell-running, or plug-in hybrids. California ban gas cars and trucks can reduce these emissions by 35%. Recent movements in Europe pushed for strict clean-air and greenhouse-gas requirements for vehicles. Around 15 countries committed to cleaning up, including Germany, France, and Norway. Even China got into the act a few years ago and pushed for zero-emission cars. As such, California already enforces emission rules stricter than federal standards. This new law now raises the stakes further in favor of electric vehicles.

Ban on Selling, Not Owning

Vehicles are responsible for over 40% of the greenhouse emissions in the state. The California ban gas cars cover the selling of combustible engine vehicles. It ends the sale of new gasoline-powered cars. State residents can still own gas or diesel cars or sell them in the secondhand market. According to IHS Markit, California owns more than 11% of all registered light vehicles in the U.S. last year. As of July, 6.2% of light vehicles in California were electric-powered, or 1.6% in the nation.

The order directs the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to craft the guidelines. It added that trucks and construction vehicles should also be zero-emission by 2045. During the signing, Newsom said that “Of all the simultaneous crises that we face as a state…none is more forceful than the issue of the climate crisis. What we’re advancing here today is a strategy to address that crisis head-on, to be as bold as the problem is big.”

The automotive trade group Alliance for Automotive Innovation is hesitant. Chief executive 

John Bozzella said his members are committed to expanding EV models, but mandates like this one aren’t the best way to do so. He said: “What builds successful markets is widespread stakeholder engagement.” 

A Ford Motor Co. spokesman said: “We agree with Gov. Newsom that it is time to take urgent action to address climate change…Progress requires public-private partnerships, smart infrastructure, and key resources that encourage consumers to invest in electrified products.”

To make this work, California will need new statewide charging infrastructure. It would also need to upgrade its aging power infrastructure to support that. At the same time, the state’s thousands of gasoline stations will need help in their phaseout. 

Running Afoul of The White House

The Trump White House didn’t make the announcement kindly. White House spokesman Judd Deere noted the lengths Democrats will go. He said: “This is yet another example of how extreme the left has become. They want the government to dictate every aspect of every American’s life, and the lengths to which they will go to destroy jobs and raise costs on the consumer is alarming. President Trump won’t stand for it.”

A legal fight may be in the works from the Oval Office. The federal government is fighting California over its auto emission rules. In 2018, Trump followed through on a campaign promise to cut regulatory red tape. The EPA announced it will scrap Obama-era vehicle emissions and fuel economy standards. Trump remarked he is taking away California’s power to set its own emissions standards. As a result, states led by California sued the agency in 2019, and the case is currently before the appeals court in D.C.

Elections, SCOTUS Can Make or Break This Case

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s replacement might play a big role. If the GOP pushes through with a nominee and installs a justice, this could work in their favor. A conservative majority on the Supreme Court could strike down the California program. But this hinges on Trump winning the election in November. On the other hand, if Democrat Joe Biden wins, federal opposition would most likely stop.

Watch this as Bloomberg reports that the California ban gas cars sales in 2035:

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