The FRED® Blog

Updating the name of the television services series in the CPI

Fine-tuning the data to improve the picture quality

FRED aggregates data from various sources. Those sources routinely revise and update the data they produce. After all, more-accurate data allow for better decisionmaking. These sources also update the names of their data series to accurately describe the activity they record. FRED incorporates these updates with an automated process.

One source, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, provides the consumer price index (CPI) dataset, which measures the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers. The FRED graph above displays one CPI data series that had its name changed as of February 14, 2023: from “Cable and satellite television service” to “Cable, satellite, and live streaming television service.”

This update to the series name reflects the addition of customizable internet-based live streaming of television services, which had been commonly provided via land cable and satellite wireless signals.

So what does this FRED graph show? The time period is January 1992 to December 2022, the units are percent change from a year ago, and the values are the year-over-year inflation rate of television service prices. These prices had some cyclical ups and downs but were trending downward until 2011, when that declining trend reversed. In fact, price growth for television services has markedly outpaced total price growth for its parent category, recreation services.

Stay tuned to the FRED Blog for more news of updates to additional data series names.

How this graph was created: Search FRED for “Cable, satellite, and live streaming television service.” Next, click the “Edit Graph” button, select the “Line 1” tab, and use the “Units” dropdown menu to select “Percent Change from Year Ago.” Last, select the “Format” tab to change the graph type to “Bar.”

Suggested by Diego Mendez-Carbajo.

Where CPI inflation isn’t so high

Including a closer look at rents

There’s no doubt that consumer price inflation is relatively high. The consumer price index (CPI), though, is a composite of the prices of many goods and services. Thus, some show even higher inflation, such as energy and transportation, and others show lower inflation. This is what the FRED graph above is all about.

The blue bar shows overall CPI inflation. The other bars display specific categories with lower-than-average inflation. For example, both education and health services, which have had noteworthy price increases in the past, are showing much more restraint now. There are also puzzles, like alcoholic beverages, toys, and communications (for example, computers). Prices that are administratively set, such as water and trash collection, are fairly stable.

And then there’s a surprise: rents. The rent category in the CPI increases less than the overall CPI, but the news media have been referring to large rent increases for some time. Why the difference?

The reason is that the news media and the CPI consider different pools of rents. The news media mostly refer to rents that new renters face. The CPI has a rent pool that includes mostly continuing renters, whose rents are more stable or haven’t increased yet. In addition, the CPI’s rents survey samples participants every six months, precisely because rents are usually so stable. If rents have increased, there can be a delay in that increase showing up in the rents component of the CPI.

How this graph was created: Start from the CPI release table: Check the series to display, click “Add to Graph,” and shorten the sample period to the last two observations. From the “Edit Graph” panel, use the “Format” tab to choose the bar graph option.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

Revisions and updates to CPI data

Recalculating seasonal adjustment factors and expenditure weights

The FRED Blog has used ALFRED graphs to discuss the regular revisions to employment data and the periodic updates to real gross domestic product data. Here, once again, we tap into ALFRED to discuss revisions and updates to consumer price index (CPI) data.

The bars in the ALFRED graph above show the annual CPI inflation rates between 2018 and 2021 using two different vintages of CPI data: before (in red) and after (in blue) the January 2022 revision and update to the CPI data. The differences in annual inflation rates are minimal, so what is involved in those revisions and updates?

The revisions are conducted every year and involve adjusting many of the 80,000 individual prices recorded every month for changes in their seasonal patterns. For example, fresh fruit prices are lower during harvest on account of the bountiful supply available. The BLS considers these price swings and reports seasonally adjusted price indexes. However, the seasonal changes in prices can be as fickle as the seasonal weather and the corresponding adjustment factors used by the BLS require regular evaluation.

The updates are conducted every two years and involve adjusting the relative weights of goods and services purchased across eight different categories of consumer spending. For example, over the past two years of COVID-19-induced disruptions to regular life, consumers shifted their food purchases away from restaurants towards groceries. The BLS considers those changed patterns by introducing new spending weights in its market basket for goods and services.

Some research shows the impact large-scale and less-frequent revisions and updates to CPI data have on the accurate calculation of consumer price inflation. In that light, the small differences in annual inflation rates across data vintages reflected in the ALFRED graph are a testament to the value of more frequent and smaller-scale updates to CPI data. More accurate data facilitates better decision making, even if the reported inflation rates do not change much.

How this graph was created: Search ALFRED for “Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers: All Items in U.S. City Average.” By default, ALFRED shows a graph with two sets of bars: the most recent vintage and the prior vintage. Add additional vintages by using the “Add Line” tab and select the date of the desired vintage from the “or select a vintage” dropdown menu. Change the start date and the end date above the graph to customize the number of data points shown.

Suggested by Diego Mendez-Carbajo.

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