Editor’s note: A version of this story originally appeared in Issue 2 of our digital magazine, back in 2019. We’re republishing it here with updated charts.
Car enthusiasts don’t have Magic 8 Balls or tarot cards, but they do put a lot of faith in January auctions. Whether sales are going to be up for the year, which cars are hot, and which are headed for a fall. All that and more, the common belief holds, will be foretold in the month of January. Like most fortune tellers, though, January has a mixed track record.
Start by comparing how January auction results have changed from year to year since 2009 and how results for the remaining 11 months vary from year to year. The year-over-year correlation in the sell-through rate is high, at 73 percent. That tells us the month might be a signal that auctions the rest of the year will go well or go poorly. But the January auctions don’t appear to say much about what will or won’t sell—the correlation in change in the average sale price is negative one percent. Total sales in dollars is somewhere in-between, with the correlation in year-over-year change at 44 percent. Translation: If your favorite collector car or truck had a mixed showing at Scottsdale or Kissimmee, don’t panic.
January is also an inconsistent predictor of the market for popular marques. Take Chevrolet, for instance. In most years, the January auctions had a similar change in the sell-through rate for Chevrolets as did the rest of the year—a 58-percent correlation rate, to be precise—but almost no relation to how the average price changed. Ford, on the other hand, has one of the weakest correlations for the sell-through rate between January and the rest of the year, at just 26 percent, and its average price correlation is also a low 10 percent. The correlation is negative for Porsche and Mercedes-Benz. In other words, prices for offerings from the two German marques tend to move in the opposite direction from whatever happened in January.
No doubt, January is significant for car collectors. The month’s sales typically make up a quarter of the totals for the whole year. But they simply don’t have undue influence on what happens after.
January auctions, by the numbers
Even if it’s not a perfect predictor, the year-opening auctions are worth parsing. In 2021, January’s totals were lower than in recent years but healthier, with higher sell-through rates and strong average selling price.