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Metro area economic conditions

FRED has updated its Metro Area Economic Conditions Indexes through September 2017

Last week the St. Louis Fed updated its estimates of economic growth through the third quarter of 2017 for 68 of the U.S.’s most populous metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). Average growth across these MSAs was 2.7 percent, which is consistent with the 2.3 percent year-over-year growth in U.S. real GDP during the same period.

The data are summarized in a FRED release table called Economic Conditions Index by BEA Region (under the main category of Metro Area Economic Conditions Indexes). Growth was the fastest in the Southwest and the slowest in the Plains. Given the geographical aspects here, we can use GeoFRED to map the economic growth for these MSAs in September 2017: For example, activity declined in Detroit, Hartford, Houston, and Miami, while growth was relatively strong in San Antonio, Louisville, and San Jose.

Impact of Hurricanes on the Houston and Florida MSAs

There’s a noticeable decline in the growth rates of the MSAs affected by hurricanes Harvey and Irma last fall: The graph above shows Houston’s 0.5 percent decline in August and 1.0 percent decline in September; Miami’s 1.9 percent increase in August and 0.6 percent decline in September; and Tampa’s near 4 percent increase in August and previous months and 2.4 percent increase in September.

Economic Activity in the Eighth Federal Reserve District MSAs

Overall growth among the four largest MSAs in the Eighth Federal Reserve District continued to improve at a modest pace during the third quarter of 2017, as can be seen from the graph below. Growth in Little Rock, St. Louis, and Louisville picked up, while growth in Memphis slowed a bit. Overall third-quarter growth was fastest in Louisville at 4.3 percent, followed by Little Rock at 3.3 percent, Memphis at 2.2 percent, and St. Louis at 1.9 percent.

How these graphs where created: For the map: Go to GeoFRED and click on “Build New Map.” Under “Region Type” in the Tools menu, select “Metropolitan Statistical Area”; under “Data,” select “Economic Conditions Index.” To change legend colors, select “Colors” and chose a divergent color set that uses a bold color for both high and low values. To change the ranges, select “Edit Legend” and enter the interval values 0, 2, 4, 6.

For the first graph: Go to the Releases section on FRED and select the category “Metro Area Economic Conditions Indexes.” From this page, select “Economic Conditions Index by BEA Region.” Then, by checking the box next to their names, select the Houston-The Woordlands-Sugar Land, TX (MSA) and the Miami-Fort Lauderdale- West Palm Beach, FL (MSA) and click on “Add to Graph.” Use the slide bar below the graph to zoom in on the period of interest.

For the second graph: Again, go to the release tables page on FRED. Select “Economic Conditions Index by BEA Region.” From here, select the St. Louis, MO-IL (MSA), the Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR (MSA), the Memphis, TN-MS-AR (MSA), and the Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN (MSA) and click on “Add to Graph”. Then adjust the dates to 2017-01-01 to 2017-09-01. From the “Edit Graph” menu, use the “Modify frequency” option to select “Quarterly” and the “Aggregation method” option to select “Average.” Repeat this step for the other three lines. From the “Format” tab, under “Graph type,” select the option “Bar.”

Suggested by Asha Bharadwaj and Charles Gascon.


Nowcasting current activity

How's the economy

Forecasting, as we all know, tries to predict the future. For FRED’s purposes, that prediction is how a statistic will evolve. Nowcasting, a variant of forecasting, looks at the current state of a statistic that hasn’t yet been released because the period of coverage is not yet over. Nowcasting is one way to examine current economic activity; another was discussed in a previous post.

GDP is a popular target for nowcasting, and FRED covers the nowcasts of several Federal Reserve Banks—with the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta (GDPNow) and St. Louis nowcasts shown here along with the final GDP numbers released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. To gaze into the future, focus on the very last data point for each nowcast (Q4 2017, shown here), as this is what nowcasting is all about.

The earlier data points for the nowcasts are the last estimates before the first (early) GDP release by the BEA, which is typically revised over time to create the green line. Like the BEA’s GDP numbers, the nowcasts are revised several times per month.

We see that there are disparities between the nowcasts. While they are in principle all based on the same information, estimates can differ because of different statistical methodologies and how they are revised over time. And what about the differences between the nowcasts and the final data? The BEA obviously has the advantage of access to more raw data and more time to refine the numbers.

How this graph was created: Search for “nowcast” and all the series you want should appear. Select the relevant series and click “Add to Graph.” From the “Edit Graph” menu, use the “Add Line” option to search for and select “real GDP” (use the growth rate series). Finally, start the graph in October 2011, the first data point of GDPNow.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

View on FRED, series used in this post: A191RL1Q225SBEA, GDPNOW, STLENI

Advance retail sales on FRED

Getting an earlier look into current economic activity

FRED recently added a set of time series from the Census Bureau known as “advance retail sales.” This data set isn’t about making technological progress in the retail sector; rather, it’s about collecting preliminary information about retail sales statistics and releasing those statistics before they’re considered definitive. This advance information may be premliminary, but it’s also quite useful: Retail sales are a large part of the economic activity in a country, and knowing how well the sector is doing is a good proxy for other economic indicators that are released much later.

The graph shows one of the advanced series (in blue) along with the history of final releases (in red). In FRED, you can save a graph in your account and choose to have the graph automatically update to include the latest data. This way you can easily monitor how a particular indicator is doing over time. The FRED dashboard is a great tool for this.

How this graph was created: Search for “advance retail” or start with the release table linked above. Choose a series. Look in the notes for the code of the corresponding historical series. From the “Edit Graph” section, open the “Add Line” tab and use the series code. Select the last year of data.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

View on FRED, series used in this post: MRTSSM44X72USS, RSAFS

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