Free economic analysis for a changing economy

Richard Randall//May 23, 2022

Free economic analysis for a changing economy

Richard Randall//May 23, 2022

Until the pandemic, we had a stable economy for several years. Growth was slow but steady. There wasn’t a great need for business leaders to react quickly to economic volatility. That’s changed now, so you’ll want solid sources of economic intelligence supporting your decision making.  

When change was slow, steady, and positive – as recently as 2019 – you could run on autopilot. There was no need to gather and analyze economic data monthly. In 2020 we began a two-year period of change in which more and more factors came into play.  

First it was the blow of the pandemic lockdowns. Then came supply chain disruptions we are still experiencing. “Temporary” inflation took off and now looks not-so-temporary. As if that wasn’t enough, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and broad-ranging sanctions have disrupted global energy supplies and a number of key commodities markets.  

So where do you get timely information to help you make decisions? I want to share four sources I’ve used many times. These sources use business surveys of large scale, or smaller surveys and/or forecasts of curated subject matter experts. To one degree or another they overlap. You don’t have to blindly accept one or the other. Along the way I’ll provide URL’s for each.  

The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) https://www.bea.gov is an agency of the Federal Government which produces three monthly reports: “Personal Income and Outlays,” “International Trade,” and “U.S. International Trade Gap”. It produces the quarterly “U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP)” report.  

These reports provide data and analysis. They are a good, high-level look at the national economy.  

The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) https://www.ismworld.org produces the “ISM Report on Business” both for manufacturing and services, and indices of business activity which are based on large-scale monthly surveys of purchasing managers. The ISM Manufacturing PMI or Purchasing Managers Index is a proxy for the growth rate of the manufacturing sector. A similar Services PMI is provided for that sector. Values above 50 percent reflect growth, values below 50 percent contraction. Other indices reported for both manufacturing and services include New Orders, Customer Inventories, Backlog of Orders, Prices, and Employment. 

The Philadelphia Federal Reserve https://www.philadelphiafed.org  produces the monthly “Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey” and “Non-Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey” for the Third Federal Reserve District, covering Delaware, Southern New Jersey, and Eastern Pennsylvania. The two surveys of firms in the district report indices including General Business Activity, Sales, New Orders, Employment (full-time and part-time), Prices Paid and Received, Future Activity and a monthly Special Question of particular interest. For April the question was expectations for cost changes in 2022 for energy, other raw materials, intermediate goods, wages, health benefits, and non-health benefits. 

It also publishes the Third District “Beige Book” every six to seven weeks, a two-page narrative describing current economic conditions in the district, with additional insights on key sectors, emerging trends, and changing outlooks. 

The Fed reports provide loads of good information at the district level. Each of the twelve districts produce similar reports, so you can get good information for the specific areas where your business operates.  

Wells Fargo https://www.wellsfargo.com/cib/insights/economics/us-outlook/ produces a monthly “Economic Outlook Report” with narrative analysis of current economic issues and detailed forecasts by quarter for the next two years of GDP, Personal Consumption, Business Fixed Investment, Government Purchases, Exports, Inventories, Sales, Inflation, Income, Production, Payrolls, Unemployment, Housing Starts, Vehicle Sales, and Interest Rates.  

Together, these four sources of free reports provide a treasure trove of information and analysis. They are easy to access, easy to understand, and together provide a comprehensive view of important information from the national down to the local level.