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800 concerns in the 1950s

Our 800th post looks at a mid-century diffusion index

Here at the FRED Blog, we celebrate every 100th post with a nod to that number. Today is our 800th, which turned out to be a challenge. We searched for “800” on FRED and found exactly one hit, which needs some explanation.

The FRED graph above shows data for the “800 concerns”: These “concerns” were a group of manufacturing businesses that varied in number from 261 to 793, yet somehow became known as the 800. The data come from the NBER Macrohistory Database, a patchwork of economic indicators that were collected for no more than a few decades, often by the NBER itself. This particular series was assembled and published by Geoffrey Moore for the NBER.

These data depict a diffusion index, which is a form of survey that asks a group whether something is going to increase, stay the same, or decrease. In this case, these manufacturing concerns were asked about their sales, specifically the change in sales compared with four quarters ago.

When the group, overall, expects conditions to stay the same, the diffusion index is at 50%. Higher values indicate more increases, and lower values indicate more decreases. This index shows continuous optimism among the manufacturers: Even during the two short recessions of the 1950s and the Korean War, more manufacturers saw sales increases than decreases.

These diffusion indexes are precursors to much more comprehensive business surveys that would later be conducted by various federal agencies. Many are available in FRED. The “800 concerns” was collected for less than a decade, with obvious interruptions.

How this graph was created: Search FRED for “800.”

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

Oil and gas prices move together like rockets and feathers

In recent months, U.S. gasoline prices have risen significantly—because of both increased demand and increased production costs. Notably, but not surprisingly, oil prices have also increased. And although oil is a key input in the production of retail gasoline, oil and gas prices don’t always move in tandem.

When oil prices shoot upward, gas prices rise with them. And when oil prices fall, gasoline prices also fall; but they can fall at a slower rate. Economists refer to this market dynamic as “asymmetric pass-through.” A more colorful description of the phenomenon is “rockets and feathers.”

Our FRED graph plots the average U.S. price for a gallon of gas (left axis, blue line) and the average U.S. price of a barrel of oil (right axis, red line). The two lines largely move together, as we’d expect. When oil prices have increased, gas prices have immediately risen to meet them. That’s the rocket effect. When oil prices have decreased, though, the corresponding decrease in gas prices has often come after a short delay. That’s the feather effect.

While this phenomenon doesn’t occur every time oil prices fall, it can be seen in recent months: at the beginning of December 2021 and at the end of March 2022. To see this, zoom in on the graph either by moving the date sliders just below the graph or by selecting a shorter, more-specific time span in date picker at the top right of the graph.

You can find more analysis that describes retailer market power and consumer search costs as possible drivers of this asymmetry. Research also finds that the degree of this asymmetric pass-through varies by geographic region.

How this graph was created: Search FRED for and select the “US Regular All Formulations Gas Price” series. (Series ID: GASREGW.) From the “Edit Graph” panel (at the top right corner of the graph), use the “Add Line” tab (second from the left) to search for and select “Crude Oil Prices: West Texas Intermediate (WTI) – Cushing, Oklahoma” (Series ID: WCOILWTICO) by clicking the “Add data series” button under the search bar. Under the “Format” tab, go to the “Line 2: Crude Oil Prices: West Texas Intermediate (WTI) – Cushing, Oklahoma” section and change the Y-axis position from left to right. Close the graph editor window using the “X” at the top right. Adjust the graph to the desired dates using the slider at the bottom or the date entry boxes at the top right.

Suggested by Michael Owyang and Julie Bennett.

The curious case of the $1 coin

This FRED graph shows the number of $1 coins stored in Federal Reserve Banks. These data are part of a release that measures the volume and value of currency by denomination: It includes multiple banknote denominations but just one coin, the $1 coin.

The U.S. government has long attempted to replace $1 bills with $1 coins. The first was the Morgan dollar (1878-1904), which was barely used in circulation because the public preferred silver certificates. More sustained efforts started in 1971, as the production of $1 bills was significantly more costly than coins, as the bills needed to be replaced after only a few years. The Eisenhower dollar (1971-1978) was barely used because it was very large. The Susan B. Anthony dollar (1979-1981 and 1999) wasn’t well adopted either because it was easily confused with the quarter.

Finally, officials thought they had found the secret formula with the Sacagawea dollar in 2000, followed by presidential dollars in 2007: a heavier, gold-colored coin. They were shipped in large quantities to the Federal Reserve Banks. They quickly started filling the vaults because they still were not being widely adopted by the public. Because the traditional, familiar $1 bills were still in circulation, nothing changed. At some point in 2011, the Fed declared it did not want to receive any more of these coins. Since then, they have been minted only for collectors.

The graph clearly shows an accumulation of coins until 2011, when the number peaked at over 1.4 billion coins; afterward, the inventory slowly decreased when some businesses began asking for them, mostly as change in ticket machines. Given the sheer quantity of them, it seems reasonable to report them separately. Other coins kept in Fed vaults are in much smaller quantities and values.

How this graph was created: Search FRED for and select the “coin inventory” series.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

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