Auto retail sales slowed in late June: J.D. Power

DETROIT (Reuters) - New-car retail sales in the U.S. market cooled in the third week of June from the stronger pace of the first two weeks, a top industry consulting firm said on Thursday.

The June retail sales rate, adjusted for an annual figure, is expected to come in below 9.8 million vehicles sold, but still nearly 500,000 vehicles better than May, according to J.D. Power and Associates, which tracks real-time transaction sales data from more than 8,900 U.S. auto dealers.

The forecast for June would be an improvement from May's annual rate of 9.32 million vehicles but trailing the rest of the year, when results ranged from 10.15 million in January to 11.15 million in February.

The total light-vehicle selling rate, which also includes fleet sales, is expected to be below 12 million vehicles for the second straight month, J.D. Power said. Automakers are scheduled to report June U.S. sales on Friday.

"Sales in June typically face pressure from being between two strong selling holidays -- Memorial Day and Independence Day -- but incentive levels $500 below the first-quarter average and depleted vehicle inventory have added to the pressure as the month progressed," Jeff Schuster, executive director of global forecasting at J.D. Power, said in a statement.

"However, the fundamentals remain in place for a marked return to the recovery pace set in the first four months of the year," he added.

Fewer cars on dealer lots and higher prices -- factors that led to disappointing U.S. auto sales in May -- look to hold June results in check, analysts and economists said.

U.S. auto sales are expected to rise only 2 percent from May -- but a healthier 8 percent on a year-over-year basis -- a month after tighter inventory caused by Japan's earthquake and a spike in vehicle prices led more consumers than expected to hold off on buying cars and augmented fears of a slowing U.S. economy.

The average forecast of 41 economists surveyed by Reuters was for an annual sales rate in June of 12 million vehicles, up from 11.1 million last year, and 11.8 million in May.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit, editing by Matthew Lewis)