CNBC's Schacknow: Earnings Season Is No Carnival Ride

Market Factoid Nightmare

Not to minimize the effects of extreme market volatility for investors, but Wall Street’s wild ride in recent weeks has also taken its toll on keepers of market factoids, like those of us toiling at the Breaking News desk.

We routinely write market factoids for use as dekos, or onscreen data boxes, and we just as routinely monitor them for possible outdating. That part of the job is usually not that difficult. Usually.

Lately, however, the stock market has shown an uncanny ability to change at the blink of an eye. In the last week alone, I’ve written dekos about stocks being higher, only to have them go lower the moment I finish typing, only to have them go higher again once I finish amending.

We do have hard evidence that volatility doesn’t exist only in my imagination: The widely followed Volatility Index (VIX) reached a four-year high this week. I don’t know what the record is for swings between “up” and “down” in a single day, but if I’d spent the day riding the famed Cyclone at Coney Island, I might not experience as many ups and downs as we saw in each of the past three sessions.

Earnings Angst

We’re almost through the heaviest part of this latest earnings season, and all I can say is, thank goodness.

You, the viewer, watch our market reporters tell about some company’s earnings and by how much it beat -- or failed to beat -- the Wall Street consensus; and, of course, what the stock is doing.

Behind the scenes it’s often much more complicated than that.

Earlier this week, our auto reporter Phil LeBeau was at General Motors headquarters, standing by to report on the automaker's earnings. As we were all quickly scanning the press release, Phil and I got into a rather animated discussion about which of the many different numbers in the release was the right one to use. Phil favored one number, I liked another, and then we all found out that the folks on Wall Street were utilizing still another. I was very adamant. So was Phil. I think he still likes me. I hope.

The difference between numbers can come from a myriad of factors, ranging from discontinued operations to one-time tax benefits to sales of assets to just about anything. The challenge is to figure out which of these numbers Wall Street analysts were using when they came up with their estimates. I have an MBA in accounting and my brain still turns to mush when I look at certain earnings reports.

Thankfully, we have expert help, especially on “Squawk Box,” where anchor Joe Kernen is probably the best I’ve ever seen at interpreting earnings on the fly. But I’m betting Joe will be just as happy as any of us when earnings season is over.