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Celebrating 25 years: The dawn of FRED

In the dark ages (that is, before 1991), people called the St. Louis Fed directly to ask about the latest economic data. The staff of the Data Desk responded to questions and even sent data to people through the U.S. mail. Once they realized they could get good answers to their questions, people called regularly. The series shown in the graph above was one of the most popular at the time, owing to the fact that this rate was closely tied to mortgage rates.

All this contact with the public provided stronger motivation to make FRED widely available. So, FRED began as a dial-up bulletin board service in 1991, before the web became truly world wide and pervasive.

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FRED eventually made it to the web, but only after much discussion, disagreement, and planning. Fun fact: The first web presence for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis was the FRED website.

Those who worked on the St. Louis Fed’s Data Desk at the time (including Monica Asselin, Russell Bischof, and Dennis Mehegan) tell us that bringing FRED online didn’t stop those phone calls from coming in. The graph below may show us why.

In 1995, when FRED first went online, less than 10% of the U.S. population had access to the internet. By 1996, that increased to 16.4%, which is a big jump but nowhere near the nearly 90% today.

Suggested by the FRED Team.

View on FRED, series used in this post: ITNETUSERP2USA, WGS5YR

Celebrating 25 years: FRED birthday fun facts

2016 FINAL FRED25

FRED turns 25 today! The popular data tool has now been available for a quarter century. From a bulletin board service with a single phone line, it evolved into a major website with API, mobile apps, and related websites. It is used in statistical software and major economics textbooks. Don a party hat and learn a few things about FRED’s history!

 

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  • FRED stands for Federal Reserve Economic Data, even though it contains much more than Federal Reserve data.
  • USFD announced FRED’s arrival on the cover of its April 18, 1991, edition.
  • FRED started as a dial-up electronic bulletin board (as noted above).
  • The phone number for FRED was 314-621-18xx, which is now a working number for a local produce company in St. Louis.
  • In the first two months of its existence, FRED had 620 users!
  • In December 1991, there were over 3,000 calls to FRED.
  • Since the beginning, FRED has been updated every business day.
  • FRED has always been international: Within the first two months of 1991, calls came from Taipei, London, and Vancouver. Now pretty much the whole world can get to FRED. In 2015, 194 of 197 countries accessed FRED, plus many territories and country equivalents. (We noticed the list did not include North Korea.)
  • FRED has a long history of adding data to improve the customer experience. FRED started with USFD in April. By August 1991, the data from our publication Monetary Trends were added. By October 1991, the data from our National Economic Trends were also added.
  • FRED has been free since day one.
  • The FRED trademark was initially held by the Minneapolis Fed; they let us have it because they were no longer using it.
  • By 1993, FRED had over 300 series.
  • Currently, FRED has over 384,000 series.
  • FRED added ALFRED in July 2006, with ALFRED graphing features added in April 2008.
  • GEOFRED was born in 2007.
  • In 2004, FRED started the year with just over 1,000 series and ended the year with 3,000 series.
  • In 1995, FRED moved to the world wide web. If employees wanted to use it, they could go to the computer terminal in the Office of Computing Services.
  • FRED’s first web address was http://www.stls.frb.org/fred/.
  • FRED then moved to http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred in 2002, and then became http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2 following a major redesign.
  • The oldest observation in FRED is from 1785 (brick production for England and Wales, Great Britain).
  • The Census Bureau is the largest source of data series in FRED: It contributes 121,069 series.
  • Which of these news organizations does not use FRED in their publication? New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, or National Enquirer? [Answer: We believe the National Enquirer does not use FRED.]
  • How many observations are in FRED? 48,156,490, with 129,123,230 in ALFRED.
  • Most observations in a single series? USRECDP—a daily recession indicator—has 58,397 separate observations.
  • How many countries’ data are in FRED? 242 countries (or country equivalents, for reporting purposes to organizations like the World Bank and IMF).

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For more about the history of FRED, including some pictures of the old websites, see this Review article. And thanks to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, you can see how the FRED website looked in 1996, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2005, and 2011.

Suggested by Katrina Stierholz.

FRED: Don’t leave home without it

Some of us* are old enough to remember the “Don’t leave home without them” slogan for travelers checks. The FRED data in the graph trace the rise and fall of travelers checks outstanding: As of February 2016, the value is $2.4 billion, about where it was in the mid 1970s when American Express launched its aforementioned ad campaign. These checks hit their peak of $9.7 billion in August 1995. Note that the series shown here is not seasonally adjusted. So, as you’d expect, spikes do occur in the summers. However, that seasonality has diminished in recent years, which may indicate these checks aren’t being used as much for vacation travel.

* FRED isn’t quite as old as travelers checks, but will be celebrating a 25th birthday next week. Look for celebratory posts in the coming days. And by the way, FRED’s mobile app lets you view data on the go, so you truly don’t ever have to leave home without FRED.

How this graph was created: Search for “travelers checks,” select the monthly series that is not seasonally adjusted, and click “Add to Graph.”

Suggested by George Fortier.

View on FRED, series used in this post: TVCKSNS

Cliffhanger: Personal income in 2012

The careful reader should be puzzled by the above graph: Both lines have the same title, real disposable personal income per capita, and yet they look very different. The extra careful reader will notice one series has a yearly frequency and the other has a monthly frequency. Here, frequency matters a lot, but not because of the usual concerns about seasonality. Income climbs steeply at the end of 2012 before falling dramatically in January 2013. This has to do with the so-called fiscal cliff: A series of temporary income tax cuts were set to expire on December 31, 2012, increasing the tax rate on personal income for many people in potentially significant ways. This event was well advertised. And, although Congress approved last-minute legislation with much smaller tax increases, taxpayers adjusted their various income streams by trying to shift income from the beginning of 2013 to the end of 2012. This shift applies primarily to capital income. When you look at the data at a yearly frequency, all this intrigue mostly washes out.

If you’re wondering how monthly income could be that high, consider this: All the data are annualized, meaning that monthly data are multiplied by twelve, as quarterly data are multiplied by four.

How this graph was created: Search for “real disposable personal income” and these series should appear. Select the monthly and yearly per capita series and click on “Add to Graph.” (FYI: There’s also a quarterly series.) Limit the graph sample to the past five years.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

View on FRED, series used in this post: A229RX0, A229RX0A048NBEA

A plodding dollar: The recent decrease in the velocity of money

The velocity of money measures the number of times a dollar is spent to buy domestically produced goods and services per unit of time. It’s calculated as the ratio of nominal GDP to the average of the money stock. Nominal GDP measures the value of all final goods and services bought by consumers, firms, the government, and foreigners in a period of time; so, it’s used as a proxy for the value of all transactions that occur in an economy in that period of time.

Typically, statistical agencies calculate the velocity of money using one of two measures of the money supply: (1) M1, the supply of currency in circulation, is notes and coins, traveler’s checks (non-bank issuers), demand deposits, and checkable deposits. (2) M2, a broader measure of the money supply, is M1 plus saving deposits, small-denomination (<$100,000) certificates of deposit, and money market deposits for individuals.

The graph shows the evolution of the velocity of M2 for the United States from 1959 to 2015. During recessions (shown by gray bars), the velocity of money tends to decrease, since the amount of transactions in an economy decreases. Consumers tend to save more and firms tend to invest less—that is, they hoard cash instead of spend it. As the graph shows, this was the case during the “dot com bubble” crisis of 2001 and more recently during the financial crisis of 2007. In general, the velocity of money starts to increase after a recession is over, when confidence is restored. However, since 2007, the velocity of money in the U.S. has been decreasing, which means consumers and firms are still holding onto cash instead of spending it. This behavior, which also reflects a decrease in inflation, suggests that confidence in the recovery is still low. When confidence is restored, we should expect to see a rebound in the velocity of money.

How this graph was created: Search FRED for “M2 Money Velocity” and choose the series “Velocity of M2 Money Stock”, or M2V.

Suggested by Ana Maria Santacreu.

View on FRED, series used in this post: M2V


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