CNBC's Schacknow: Why I Hate Car Sales

You may recall a previous entry in which I stated my completely non-political dislike of presidential news conferences - strictly from a breaking news desk point of view, of course.

Well, that pales in comparison with my loathing of auto sales numbers, easily the most stress-inducing, messy, difficult set of statistics of all the numbers we try to get on the air in a hurry. Of course, it could be worse. I could be Phil LeBeau, our auto reporter who’s the headpin in this bowling alley of confusion (be sure and see video below).

The primary problem: The “adjustment”. We have to take the total sales and divide by the number of “selling days”, generally calculated by subtracting Sundays and holidays. This number can (and often is) different than it was the prior year - for instance, December 2006 had one less selling day than December 2005.

I don’t know about you, but in my neighborhood, car dealers are open on Sundays. But analyst estimates are based on this “adjusted” number, so we take great pains (and I do mean great) to play along.

I’ll spare you the ugly details of how we crank this out, except to say it involves finding the raw sales number in the midst of a very complex press release, recalculating, telling Phil what the result was, and then watching him perform his magic while I chug Mylanta.

Today’s news: Ford sales were down 9.4% for December, DaimlerChrysler sales were up 2.9%, while GM reported a 9.6% drop. Ford pulled a fast one on us by reporting at 12:30 pm instead of 12 noon, but Phil handled that one with his usual aplomb. As for me, I think I’ll take the first business day of every month off from now on.