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FRASER turns 20

Happy birthday, vintage data! Discover econ history with FRASER and ALFRED

Most data users know that economic time series are periodically corrected and revised, and the data in FRED are no exception. But it’s also true that looking at only the most up-to-date data can skew our perception of past economic conditions. If you’re interested in historical data, join our vintage data party!

Today, July 1, FRED‘s younger sibling FRASER celebrates its 20th birthday. FRASER launched in 2004 as part of the St. Louis Fed’s effort to improve access to historical data for policy analysis and research replicability.

ALFRED is the other half of that historical data project: Each time a data series is updated in FRED, the prior version of the series is stored and made available in ALFRED, with all of its prior vintages of data observations and metadata at specific points in time. (Btw, ALFRED celebrates both its 18th and 19th birthdays this week: Its data were added to FRED in July 2005, and the site alfred.stlouisfed.org debuted in July 2006.)

Together, FRASER and ALFRED offer key context for vintage economic and financial data. For instance, let’s say we want to look at the use of credit cards and similar lines of credit during and just after the financial crisis of 2007-2009. We can use consumer credit data from the Board of Governors’ G.19 statistical release to look at the monthly changes in the use of revolving credit. But is that what people thought was happening at the time?

To answer that question, let’s use the ALFRED graph above to compare today’s data with a vintage that’s a little closer to the events in question…

While the general trend is the same, the current, updated data (red bars) show bigger changes and at slightly different times between mid-2009 and 2011 than the vintage data (blue bars) published closer to the crisis. Looking at the original data publications on FRASER, including revision documentation and other historical technical notes, can give us some hints about the cause of these differences.

So this week, celebrate FRASER and ALFRED’s birthdays by checking out historical vintages of your favorite FRED series. You might be surprised at what you find.

Relevant ALFRED series are in the related links at the bottom of any FRED page and it has a help page. Many FRED series also link to their FRASER counterparts, but you can also browse FRASER by title or search it for the G.19 statistical release—and many other data publications.

How this graph was created: Search ALFRED for “REVOLSL.” By default, ALFRED shows a graph with two sets of bars: the most recent vintage (in this case, 2024-06-07) and the prior vintage. From the “Edit Graph” panel, use the Edit “Bar 1” option to select the vintage “2012-06-07” in the vintage selection dropdown menu or type the date in the “As-of date” box. Then change the units to “Percent Change.” Click on the “Copy to all” button to apply the unit change to all the series on the graph. Finally, adjust the start date of the graph to 2005-01-01 and the end date to 2011-12-31.

Suggested by Genevieve Podleski and Hannah Edwards.

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