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Why March Matters for Obama and the Auto Industry

DETROIT ( TheStreet) -- March is not only a key month in identifying the Republican presidential nominee. It could also have a major impact on President Barack Obama's re-election campaign.

That's because Obama has tied the campaign to a manufacturing resurgence, particularly in autos, and March will likely be a tell month for auto sales.

President Barack Obama's re-election campaign is tied to a manufacturing resurgence, particularly in autos.

While February auto sales were surprisingly high and raised expectations for full-year results, March sales are considered to be a truer economic gauge. March sales are historically higher than in January and February, and are a larger component in computing the seasonally adjusted annualized sales rate, an important industry metric.

"To hit 15 million in February, breaking out of the 14 millions for the first time in four years, is eye-opening, but March is by far the most important month in the first quarter," says Jeffrey Coats, CEO of online auto-buying site Autobytel (ABTL - Get Report). "In terms of the number of cars that need to be sold to get to a SAAR of 15 million, it is meaningfully in excess of the 1.15 million sold in February."

In February, auto sales gained 16.1%, exceeding expectations, which were in the single digits, and the SAAR was 15.1 million, the highest since 15.03 in March 2008.

U.S. light vehicle sales exceeded 16 million every year from 1999 through 2007. They sank to 13.2 million in 2008 and to 10.4 million in 2009, the lowest since 1982. In 2010, a recovery began, with sales of 11.6 million. Last year, sales reached 12.8 million.

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