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Tracking the U.S. economy and financial markets during the COVID-19 outbreak

Use FRED dashboards to monitor the economy

Financial FRED dashboard Economic FRED dashboard

To help FRED users navigate the rapidly changing economic and financial environment, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis has assembled two dashboards of FRED graphs. The first dashboard collects higher-frequency financial market variables. The second dashboard collects mostly monthly indicators that track expenditures, employment and unemployment, and key business and consumer surveys.

For some background on why and how economists and other analysts track economic and financial variables during stressful times, read on:

The World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus—known as COVID-19—a pandemic. Johns Hopkins University is monitoring the spread of the virus and mapping the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and fatalities worldwide.

The number of confirmed cases in the United States is rising, and U.S. financial markets have been tumultuous. For example, since hitting an all-time high on February 12, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has fallen by about 33 percent as of the writing of this post. Yields on 10-year Treasury securities plunged to an all-time low of 0.54 percent on March 9, though they have since rebounded modestly. Other key financial market indicators, such as commercial paper yields and yields on corporate bonds, have also exhibited stress. Financial market–based measures of inflation expectations have fallen sharply.

These financial market stresses have triggered numerous policy responses by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), including two reductions in the FOMC’s federal funds target rate.

Clearly, the COVID-19 outbreak is a significant and rare event in U.S. history. It has led to widespread disruptions in economic activity, with an unknown duration and magnitude. But it can be characterized and monitored as an economic shock. So, economists and policymakers are monitoring key cyclically sensitive indicators such as initial claims for unemployment insurance, changes in employment, retail sales, and sales of light motor vehicles and new and previously sold (existing) homes.

During times of high and rising uncertainty, financial market variables often serve as reliable forward-looking signals of future economic conditions in the broader economy. A key example is the Treasury yield curve, which usually inverts prior to recessions. This forward-looking perspective is important because most of the important “real” data that economists and policymakers monitor—such as the unemployment rate or industrial production—are backward-looking. For example, the payroll employment numbers for March 2020 will be released on Friday, April 3. However, they will capture only payrolls for the survey week ending March 12. Labor market conditions could have changed dramatically since then, given the fast-moving nature of the COVID-19 outbreak and the responses by firms and the government. To get a more timely measure of labor market conditions, an analyst might instead look at the weekly initial claims data.

Our two new FRED dashboards collect these useful variables to help you monitor and better understand the trajectory of the economy and the state of financial markets. FRED account holders can create their own dashboards, either from scratch or by taking these two as starting points.

Suggested by Kevin Kliesen.

Population and income disparity in the St. Louis MSA

Comparing St. Louis City and MSA population growth

FRED lives at the St. Louis Fed, which is in St. Louis City, which is adjacent to St. Louis County, which are all part of the St. Louis metropolitan statistical area (MSA).* Population and income vary widely across the region, so let’s see what FRED’s Census data can show us.

The graph above shows population for St. Louis City in red (left axis) and the entire St. Louis MSA in blue (right axis).

The city’s population is less than half of what it was 50 years ago: down from 622,236 in 1970 to 302,838 in 2018. The most drastic population declines were in the early 1970s and right after the Great Recession. Despite some steadiness in the 2000s, the city’s population has consistently fallen.

The MSA’s population also declines in the early 1970s, but it stabilizes in the next decade and then steadily increases at a rate of about 0.5% per year. The Great Recession chipped away at MSA population, but soon it stabilized. Its recent growth is way below the previous trend, but the MSA’s overall population has grown by about 10% over the past 50 years.

Comparing St. Louis MSA and U.S. population growth

Overall growth of the St. Louis MSA is actually dwarfed by national population growth and growth in other regions. U.S. population grew by 60.7% from 1970 to 2018. St. Louis is now the 20th largest MSA, a far cry from its standing in 1970, when it was 10th largest.

Comparing St. Louis City and County median income

The graph above shows St. Louis median income relative to U.S. median income for 1998-2018. St. Louis County’s relative median household income is in blue (left axis), and St. Louis City’s relative median household income is in red (right axis).

St. Louis County income is consistently above the U.S. median—initially by a large margin, almost 30% in 1998. St. Louis City income is consistently below the U.S. median—always in the range of 28% to 37%. This income disparity isn’t surprising for St. Louis area residents, who are aware of the wealthy county neighborhoods west of the city (e.g., Clayton, Frontenac, Ladue, Town and Country) and the poor neighborhoods in the city itself (e.g., Hyde Park, Fairground, North Riverfront).

How these graphs were created: First graph: Search for St. Louis resident population and select the city series. From the “Edit Graph” panel, use “Add a Line” to search for and select St. Louis MSA population. Second graph: Search for “Estimate of Median Household Income” and select the St. Louis county series. From the “Edit Graph” panel, use “Add a Line” to search for and select the St. Louis city series. With the “Format” tab, select and in each line add “Median Household Income in the United States.” Using the box for changing the formula, use “a/b” and click enter. For both: Use the “Format” tab to select the right axis for one series and adjust color and line thickness to your liking.

*The St. Louis MSA includes, beyond St. Louis City and County, the Missouri counties of Crawford, Franklin, Jefferson, Lincoln, St, Charles, and Warren and the Illinois counties of Bond, Calhoun, Clinton, Jersey, Macoupin, Madison, Monroe, and St. Clair.

Suggested by Alexander Monge-Naranjo.

View on FRED, series used in this post: MEHOINUSA646N, MHIMO29189A052NCEN, MHIMO29510A052NCEN, MOSSPOP, STLPOP

Pie charts for Pi Day

FRED offers a variety of keen ways to display data

March 14, aka 3/14, is Pi Day because the Greek letter pi represents 3.14 etc.

This post offers pie charts because the FRED Blog is not above using puns.

Now, these delectable pie charts cover a variety of topics from recent blog posts. Observe the appealing ways FRED can help you display data, and then click the headings to review the posts themselves.

Percentage of homeownership rate by racial and ethnic group in the U.S.

The price of a BLT sandwich

CO2 emissions from fuel by sector

How these graphs were created: It’s a simple recipe: To convert any FRED graph to a pie chart, go to the “Edit Graph” panel, open the “Format” tab, and select graph type “Pie.”

Suggested by Diego Mendez-Carbajo.


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