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"NASA plans to send a robot to explore Mars. See? I knew something would open up for Al Gore." -- Jay LenoEdited by Sheridan PrassoReturn to top

Is Challenger Math-Challenged?

Few employment experts pop up in the media (including in BUSINESS WEEK) more often than John Challenger, CEO of Chicago outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. But be wary of his layoff numbers. Quite often, they're off the mark.

Case in point: In tallying recent dismissals, Challenger cites Motorola with 2,870 layoffs. Thing is, most of these people still have jobs; 350 were transferred to other units, while 1,200 were moved to a company that bought Motorola assets. So actual layoffs are less than half Challenger's figure. That's a problem because they affect investor sentiment and make the job market seem worse than it is.

Challenger concedes his figures may be off, saying it's too much work to differentiate buyouts, say, from firings. "We're not trying to parse things out," he says. The firm gets its numbers by searching databases for words such as "layoff," and doesn't verify whether employers actually made the cuts. Regardless of exactitude, though, Challenger says he's noting important trends.

Oddly, while Challenger may exaggerate case-by-case job losses, he chronically undercounts overall layoffs. Through November, Challenger tallied 480,247 announced cuts in 2000. The more thorough Bureau of Labor Statistics, which surveys a sample of households every month, found 1.1 million through October. That's more than double Challenger's figure. Sure is some fuzzy math.By Michael Arndt; Edited by Sheridan PrassoReturn to top

A Rich Deal for Fast Company

A big fat holiday gift. That's what Mortimer Zuckerman got on Dec. 19 when he sold Fast Company to a Bertelsmann subsidiary for $360 million. Future-performance clauses may push the deal north of $500 million.

Zuckerman says the New Economy magazine, which last year netted $20 million on revenues of $70 million, is going strong and worth every penny. Indeed, sources close to Zuckerman say he bet on the long haul by turning down a $400 million cash offer from Conde Nast. But industry insiders wonder how Mort the Magician got such a pretty penny just as advertising is drying up. The tech slump has hit e-mags hard. Gone are phone-book-size issues. The Industry Standard and Business 2.0 axed spin-offs. Red Herring fired 52 staff. And Fast Company had 195 ad pages in December, down 13% from its June peak, and its January issue has just 82 ad pages. Ad buyers expect a further 10% contraction in the industry; analysts predict mergers and more layoffs.

Zuckerman snorts that the Cassandras "don't know what they are talking about. The buyers got a great deal." We'll see.By Alex Salkever; Edited by Sheridan PrassoReturn to top

TABLE

Plush Rides, Gritty Race

Mercedes and Lexus are slugging it out for the top spot among the

luxury-car makers. With the final numbers for 2000 still coming in, Mercedes

leads by fewer than 500 vehicles.

BRAND LEADING MODEL NUMBER SOLD* BASE PRICE

MERCEDES BENZ M Class 185,308 $35,800

LEXUS Rx 300 184,869 $32,470

LINCOLN Towncar 179,243 $34,411

CADILLAC DeVille 173,873 $37,618

BMW 3 Series 168,703 $26,990

* Jan-Nov 2000, U.S. sales

DATA: WARD'S AUTOINFOBANK

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