Economic Indicators (By the Numbers)

In formulating the nation’s monetary policy, the Federal Reserve considers a number of factors, including the economic and financial indicators which follow, as well as the anecdotal reports compiled in the Beige Book .

In formulating the nation’s monetary policy, the Federal Reserve considers a number of factors, including the economic and financial indicators which follow, as well as the anecdotal reports compiled in the Beige Book .

  • Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
  • Consumer Price Index (CPI)
  • Nonfarm Payroll Employment
  • Housing Starts
  • Industrial Production/Capacity Utilization
  • Retail Sales
  • Business Sales and Inventories
  • Advance Durable Goods Shipments, New Orders and Unfilled Orders
  • Lightweight Vehicle Sales
  • Yield on 10-year Treasury Bond
  • S&P 500 Stock Index
  • M2

Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

Definition:

Consumer Price Index (CPI)

Definition: An index designed to measure the change in price of a fixed market basket of goods and services. The market basket of goods and services is representative of the purchases of a typical urban consumer. The index is intended to measure pure price change only; attempts are made to remove changes in price resulting from changes in quality.
Source: U.S. Department of Labor; Bureau of Labor Statistics
Frequency: Monthly
Availability: Generally available the second week of the month immediately following the month for which data is being released; always released after the Producer Price Index.
Reason: The rate of change of the CPI is one of the key measures of inflation for the U.S. economy. Acceleration or deceleration of inflation may signal that a change in monetary policy may be appropriate.

 

Nonfarm Payroll Employment

Definition: An estimate of the number of payroll jobs at all nonfarm business establishments and government agencies. Information is also provided on the average number of hours worked per week and average hourly and weekly earnings.
Source: U.S. Department of Labor; Bureau of Labor Statistics
Frequency: Monthly
Availability: Usually the first Friday of the month for the immediately preceding month; occasionally released on the second Friday.
Reason: Growth of employment and hours worked provide important information about the current and likely future pace of overall economic growth. Trends in average hourly earnings provide information about supply and demand conditions in labor markets, which may provide signals about the overall level of resource utilization in the economy.

 

Housing Starts

Definition: An estimate of the number of housing units on which construction was started. Starting construction is defined as excavation for the footings or foundation, or the first shovel of dirt to break ground. (In response to natural disasters such as Hurricane Andrew in August of 1992, that definition has been expanded to a housing unit built on an existing foundation after the previous structure had been completely destroyed.) Housing starts are divided into single-family and multifamily(2+) units. Beginning construction on a 100 unit apartment building, for example, is counted as 100 starts.
Source: U.S. Department of Commerce; Bureau of the Census
Frequency: Monthly
Availability: Around 15th of the month for the immediately preceding month
Reason: Housing is perhaps the most interest-rate sensitive sector of the economy. It often experiences large swings in activity in response to changes in the level of long-term interest rates such as those on mortgages. While residential investment represents just four percent of the level of GDP, due to its volatility it frequently represents a much higher proportion of changes in GDP over relatively short periods of time. Policy makers monitor the housing sector very carefully for clues about the near-term performance of the economy and for the effects of changes in financial conditions.

 

Industrial Production/Capacity Utilization

Definition: An index designed to measure changes in the level of output in the industrial sector of the economy. The index is grouped by both products (consumer goods, business equipment, intermediate goods, and materials) and industry (manufacturing, mining, and utilities).
Source: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
Frequency: Monthly
Availability: Preliminary estimate released around the middle of the month for the immediately preceding month.
Reason: While the industrial sector of the economy represents only about 20 percent of GDP, because changes in GDP are heavily concentrated in the industrial sector changes in this index provide useful information on the current growth of GDP. The level of capacity utilization in the industrial sector provides information on the overall level of resource utilization in the economy which may in turn provide information on the likely future course of inflation.

 

Retail Sales

Definition: An estimate of the total sales of goods by all retail establishments in the U.S. (Sales of services are not included.) Data are presented in nominal, or current, dollars, meaning they are not adjusted for inflation. However, the data are adjusted for seasonal, holiday, and trading-day differences between the months of the year. Sales are categorized by type of establishment, not by type of good.
Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census
Frequency: Monthly
Availability: Advance estimate released during the second week of the month for the immediately preceding month.
Reason: Personal consumption expenditures (PCE) represent roughly two-thirds of GDP. By monitoring retail sales, policy makers are able to make an assessment of the likely growth of PCE for the current and future quarters.

 

Business Sales and Inventories

Definition: Total current-dollar sales and inventories for the manufacturing, wholesale, and retail sectors of the economy.
Source: U.S. Department of Commerce; Bureau of the Census
Frequency: Monthly
Availability: About six weeks from the end of the month; for example, data for June are reported in mid August.
Reason: This release is the primary source of data on inventories. The rate of inventory accumulation plays a key role in determining the current pace of economic growth and often provides useful clues about the future pace of growth as well. For example, if inventories are accumulating at a rapid pace, such that inventory sales ratios are rising, it may portend a slowing of growth in the near future as firms cut production to bring inventories back into line with sales. Vice versa, if inventories are growing slowly or actually falling, it may signal a future pickup in production.

 

Advance Durable Goods Shipments, New Orders and Unfilled Orders

Definition: Data on shipments, new orders, and unfilled orders, expressed in current dollars, for things such as primary metals, fabricated metals, electric generating equipment, nonelectrical machinery, information processing equipment, and transportation equipment, including civilian and military aircraft and ships, light-, medium-, and heavy-duty trucks, and automobiles.
Source: U.S. Department of Commerce; Bureau of the Census
Frequency: Monthly
Availability: Fourth week of the month for the immediately preceding month.
Reason: The data in this report provide information on the strength of demand, from both domestic and foreign sources, for U.S. manufactured durable goods. Rising orders, shipments, and unfilled orders suggest demand is strengthening, which will likely result in increasing production and employment, while falling orders, shipments, and unfilled orders suggest the opposite. Data in this release also provides information on the current and likely future pace of business investment in new equipment.

 

Light-Weight Vehicle Sales

Definition: Total unit sales and leases of domestic and imported new automobiles and light-weight trucks (up to 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight). Includes sales and leases to both consumers and businesses.
Source: Not-seasonally-adjusted sales data: Ward’s Automotive Reports and the American Automobile Manufacturers Association. Seasonal adjustment factors: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis
Frequency: First, second, and third 10 days of each month and monthly
Availability: Third business day after the relevant selling period.
Reason: While a relatively small component of the overall economy, changes in light-weight vehicle sector often account for a large part of quarter-to-quarter changes in the rate of growth of GDP.

 

Yield on 10-year Treasury Bond

Definition: The current market interest rate or yield on U.S. Treasury bonds maturing 10 years in the future.
Source: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
Frequency: Daily
Availability: Daily data available in most major newspapers; daily, weekly, and monthly data are reported in the H.15 report which is released each Monday by the FED.
Reason: Movements in long-term interest rates such as the 10-year Treasury rate provide information about likely future changes in the level of activity in the interest-sensitive sectors of the economy. For example, mortgage interest rates often move in tandem with the 10-year Treasury rate, and changes in mortgage rates often precede changes in the level of activity in housing markets.

 

S&P 500 Stock Index

Definition: One of several indices designed to measure changes in price of a broad array of stocks.
Source: Compiled by Standard & Poors. Available in most major newspapers and several on-line market information sources.
Frequency: Daily through newspapers; instantaneous through on line information sources.
Reason: The stock market is one measure of the current value of the nation’s stock of capital and is often viewed as a barometer of business and consumer confidence regarding the future. A high and/or rising stock market may signal robust growth of business investment and consumer spending in the near future while a low and/or falling stock market may signal sluggish spending. For this reason, the S&P 500 is one component of the Index of Leading Indicators.

 

M2

Definition: One measure of the nation’s supply of money, defined as M1 (currency in circulation, demand deposits, travelers’ checks, and other checkable deposits) plus noninstitutional money market funds and small time and savings deposits.
Source: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
Frequency: Weekly and monthly.
Availability: H.6 report. Weekly data released each Thursday afternoon after 4:30 p.m. Monthly data released in either the second or third week of the month.
Reason: While the strength of the relationship has weakened over time, many people believe there is a link between growth of the supply of money and growth of nominal GDP.

The total value of goods and services produced within the borders of the United States, regardless of who owns the assets or the nationality of the labor used in producing that output. (In contrast, Gross National Product (GNP) measures the output of the citizens of the US and the income from assets owned by US entities, regardless of where located.) The growth of output is measured in real terms, meaning increases in output due to inflation have been removed.
Source: US Department of Commerce; Bureau of Economic Analysis
Frequency: Quarterly
Availability: Data are typically released during the final week of the month. The first or advance estimate is released during the final week of the month immediately following the end of a calendar quarter.
Reason: The Federal Reserve’s primary goal is sustained growth of the economy with full employment and stable prices. Real GDP is the most comprehensive measure of the performance of the U.S. economy. By monitoring trends in the overall growth rate as well as the unemployment rate and the rate of inflation, policy makers are able to assess whether the current stance of monetary policy is consistent with that primary goal.

This article has been reprinted with the authorization of the Federal Reserve