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September Auto Sales Bad, But Maybe Less Dire Than Before

The outlook for September U.S. auto sales is still pretty bad, but not quite as bad as it looked earlier this month, according to

Automakers report September sales tomorrow, Oct. 1.

Earlier this month, predicted September sales would fall to a Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate of only 8.8 million because "Cash for Clunkers" pulled so many sales ahead into August.

The latest September forecast from grew to a SAAR of 9.3 million. That's still low, but it's more or less in line with the SAAR before "Cash for Clunkers," as opposed to a deep hole relative to the earlier part of the year.

Meanwhile, Barclays Capital shaved its September forecast, from a SAAR of around 10 million earlier this month, to about 9.6 million. Brian Johnson, Barclays auto industry analyst, said a 9.6 million SAAR is likely to be taken as a "neutral event" by investors; a SAAR under 9 million could be viewed negatively; anything higher than 10 million would be a "positive catalyst" for auto stocks, he said.

The aftermath of the clunker program is mostly negative for September sales, but there may also have been some benefit from clunker sales that were concluded in August but not delivered until early September, Johnson said in a note to investors.

Stating the obvious, monthly sales forecasts get more accurate as the month goes by, as forecasts are based more firmly on additional data, and less on educated guesswork, no matter how highly educated.