Tuesday , November 24 2020
Home / FRED Blog
FRED Blog

FRED Blog

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis is the center of the Eighth District of the Federal Reserve System. This District includes Arkansas, eastern Missouri, southern Illinois and Indiana, western Kentucky and Tennessee, and northern Mississippi.

Articles by FRED Blog

The state of decline in retail sales : Using new Census data to compare U.S. states

4 days ago

View on GeoFRED®
FRED recently added more new data from the Census Bureau: 11 categories of retail sales for U.S. states. A previous post looked at national declines in retail sales, and national data continue to show the pandemic’s damaging effects on this sector.
As with most economic measures, though, the effects aren’t equally distributed across the nation. So let’s use GeoFRED maps to examine individual state experiences—specifically, July 2020 sales compared with July 2019 sales for (1) electronics and appliance stores, (2) gas stations, and (3) clothing and clothing accessories stores.
The first map covers electronics and appliance stores. National data show a decline of 4.7% year over year, which would be even more concerning in normal times but is not the worst downturn

Read More »

Replicating economic research…on gasoline affordability

7 days ago

[embedded content]
Here at the FRED Blog, we believe it’s important to be able to replicate economic analysis, which begins by identifying the data used in that analysis. That’s why FRED Blog posts include a list of the data series used to build the graphs. Moreover, all FRED data series themselves include a suggested citation.
The FRED graph above can help us reproduce some research published in our Economic Synopses series: “Gasoline Affordability.” The essay, published in 2004, compares wages with gasoline prices. To replicate the analysis, we searched for the two series mentioned in the essay: the CPI index for the price of gasoline and the average hourly wage rate of production workers.
[embedded content]
The second FRED graph helps us test the robustness of the analysis by

Read More »

Are we still in a recession? : What to expect from the NBER business cycle dating committee

11 days ago

[embedded content]
The Downturn and Rebound
April 29, 2020: In its advance estimate, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) reported that real GDP for the first quarter of 2020 fell at a 4.8% annual rate.
May 8, 2020: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that nonfarm payrolls fell by 20.5 million in April—the largest one-month percentage decline on record (dating back to 1939).
June 8, 2020: The National Bureau of Economic Research Business Cycle Dating Committee (NBER BCDC) announced that the 128-month expansion (the longest in U.S. economic history, dating back to 1854) ended sometime in February 2020.
Since then, the U.S. economy has rebounded sharply, posting large increases in real GDP and nonfarm payroll employment and a large decline in the unemployment rate. But the NBER

Read More »

From inflation targeting to average inflation targeting : The Fed’s new long-run monetary framework

14 days ago

[embedded content]
Since 1996, it has been understood among Fed policymakers that the (undeclared) target for inflation was around 2%. In January 2012, Chairman Ben Bernanke made this implicit inflation target explicit and official, thereby aligning the Fed’s inflation target with that of all the major central banks. In this framework, when inflation has approached or exceeded the traditional 2% target, even temporarily as it did in 2018, the FOMC has responded by raising the baseline federal funds rate to combat rising prices.
In August 2020 at the online Jackson Hole conference, Chair Jay Powell announced a revision to the Fed’s long-run monetary policy framework by re-framing this goal as an average inflation target (AIT) of 2% over the long-run. With this new framework, the FOMC

Read More »

How to read Indeed job posting data

18 days ago

[embedded content]
Tracking the availability of new jobs is no easy task. But FRED recently added online job postings data from Indeed. These data are presented in an interesting way, so some explanation is in order.
First, the data cover a 7-day moving average of job postings on Indeed.com as well as other online platforms. Indeed makes every effort to remove duplicate job postings from these counts, but doesn’t include job postings that are not found online. The proportion of online postings has been steadily increasing, and this brings us to our second point.
If you measure only some of the job postings—in this case, online only—and know that this proportion is increasing, it’s unrealistic to compare the data from previous years with the data from the current year without making

Read More »

The COVID-19-induced “she-cession” : BLS data show more employment losses for women

21 days ago

[embedded content]
Economic downturns have tended to affect men’s employment more than women’s, which gave rise to terms such as “he-cession” or “man-cession” and “he-covery.” Although this dynamic was true at the time of the Great Recession, it doesn’t hold true for the COVID-19-induced recession.
The FRED graph above displays data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: monthly, seasonally adjusted unemployment rates for men and women from January 2007 to September 2020. During the Great Recession (December 2007 to June 2009), the unemployment rate rose from 5.1% to 10.6% for men and 4.9% to 8.3% for women.
Those employment losses contrast greatly with the losses in the COVID-19-induced recession: Women’s unemployment rate rose from 3.4% to 16.2% between February and April 2020

Read More »

The impact of COVID-19 on U.S. states’ economic activity : State-level GDP data show the second quarter was much worse than the first

26 days ago

View on GeoFRED®
GDP comes in various forms—for the nation as a whole and also for individual U.S. states. The map above shows the change in real GDP in each U.S. state for the first quarter of 2020. This was at the start of the pandemic, and some states were hit hard.
The worst declines were in Louisiana (-11.91%), Delaware (-11.43%), Wyoming (-10.53%), Hawaii (-8.92%), Wisconsin (-8.76%), South Carolina (-8.24%), and Michigan (-7.94%). The hope at the time was that this slump would be temporary. We now have the data for the second quarter:
View on GeoFRED®
While the colors of the map are similar, the actual values in the second quarter are much worse. To put this in perspective, consider that the decline in the worst state in the first-quarter map (-11.91% in Louisiana) was nowhere

Read More »

Employment losses are largest for the least educated

29 days ago

[embedded content]
The FRED Blog has discussed how unemployment rates are inversely related to educational attainment and how they change during recessions. In short: Workers with more education are richer in so-called human capital and tend to be able to adapt more easily to changes in large-scale labor market conditions.
The FRED graph above shows employment levels after the COVID-19-related recession began. The length of the bars represents the percent change,  relative to a year ago, in the number of employed people 25 years and older. And these workers are divided into groups according to educational attainment.
Workers who didn’t graduate from high school had the largest losses in employment. Workers who did graduate from high school, including those  with some college or an

Read More »

The state of the economy, weekly

October 22, 2020

[embedded content]
Measuring the condition of an economy isn’t easy. The most reliable indicators are computed and released only quarterly or yearly, and then with a considerable lag. They are also subject to revisions. For a policymaker or anyone needing to observe and assess the economy, this can be very frustrating.
Fortunately, FRED provides access to some series that have higher frequency (weekly or even daily), are released faster, and don’t need revisions. Individually, these components offer only a partial picture of the economy; but together, they may be informative.
The Lewis-Mertens-Stock index shown in the FRED graph above provides this kind of informative picture of the economy: It comprises ten daily or weekly series, uses a statistical technique called factor analysis

Read More »

Renewables have increased the capacity for electricity production : So, capacity utilization has decreased

October 19, 2020

[embedded content]
As we’ve discussed in a previous post, electricity production has outpaced sales. That suggests a growing number of households and businesses generate some or most of their own electricity. Today, a related idea sparks our curiosity: the ongoing decrease in capacity utilization of electric power generation, transmission, and distribution.
The graph above shows the annual industrial generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity (blue line). It’s measured as an index with a value of 100 in 2012. The positive slope of this line means that the production of electricity has increased over time.
The graph also shows the capacity utilization of electric power generation, transmission, and distribution (red line). It’s measured as the percent of total

Read More »

The unemployment benefits of the CARES Act : Expanding the definition of unemployed

October 15, 2020

[embedded content]
If you’ve visited this blog before, you may have come across the official definition of unemployed: One needs to be currently looking for work, ready to work, and willing to work.
There are also requirements for receiving unemployment insurance benefits (e.g., previous work, waiting periods, eligibility periods, and asset tests) that vary across time periods and states. Plus, specific circumstances may affect benefits: How did you lose your job? Did you work sufficiently long before unemployment? Did you wait long enough before making your claim? Has your eligibility expired?
Given all these criteria and the time it takes to process a claim, there should be more unemployed persons overall than persons currently receiving unemployment insurance benefits. But the

Read More »

Last hired, first fired? Employment losses across age groups : Trends in 30 years of BLS employment data

October 8, 2020

[embedded content]
The COVID-19-related recession has been especially brutal, and its effects have been unevenly distributed. One example of disparity is employment among different age groups.
The FRED graph above shows that the youngest workers were by far the worst hit: From February to April 2020, 35% of the 16- to 19-year-olds and 30% of the 20- to 24-year-olds lost their jobs. The other age categories lost a lot, too—from 11% to 16%—but much less than the youngest cohorts. While all age groups recuperated to some extent by August, the gap is still considerable.
[embedded content]
Are the young taking one for the team just for this recession? Or have they always been first to be let go? Let’s look at the past three recessions. The second graph, which covers the period of the

Read More »

Most unemployment measures are declining… : …while long-term unemployment is still rising

October 5, 2020

[embedded content]
Many of us follow the unemployment rate closely, even more so since the pandemic began. But there are many definitions of unemployment, which depend on how people are attached to the labor force. To learn more, see this earlier blog post and this conversational account of unemployment measures.
Today’s FRED graph shows the recent evolution of 6 measures of unemployment. All increased dramatically, but not uniformly: The lines didn’t move in a parallel fashion—that is, the distance between them didn’t remain constant. Rather, the lines fanned out, showing that it wasn’t one particular type of unemployment that was responsible for the overall surge.
One detail worth noting, though, is that the long-term unemployed, which by definition take some time to accumulate,

Read More »

How much commuting time are we saving by working from home? : A back-of-the-envelope calculation of pandemic-related changes

October 1, 2020

[embedded content]
The FRED Blog has looked at the wide range of commuting times across U.S. cities and counties, as well as the impact of shorter commutes on employment and happiness.
Given that many employees have been working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ll try to gauge the potential number of hours per week that are no longer spent commuting to work. Clearly, not every employee is working from home these days. So this is a “back-of-the-envelope” calculation, which uses available information to approximate answers to very complex questions.*
First, we use the latest data (which is from 2018) on the average daily commuting time for three suburban counties:
29.57 minutes in DuPage County, IL
24.30 minutes in St. Louis County, MO
32.18 minutes in Fairfax, VA
Next, we

Read More »

What are the odds? Prices differ between hotels and casino hotels

September 28, 2020

[embedded content]
The FRED Blog recently discussed the large reductions in travel related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Today we expand that analysis to include a specific aspect of travel: hotel stays.
The graph above shows producer price index (PPI) data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) that measure price changes from the perspective of the seller. Percent changes in prices from a year ago are shown for both stand-alone hotels (in gold) and hotels attached to casinos (in red).
Seller prices began dropping for stand-alone hotels in February, and the downturn has persisted through the summer: During peak season (June to August) prices were, on average, 17% lower than they were a year ago.
But hotels attached to casinos show an increase for most of this time period. This

Read More »

Unemployment rates by country during COVID-19 : Considering differences in pandemic-related policies

September 24, 2020

[embedded content]
In a previous post, we mapped unemployment claims for U.S. states during the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, we compare the unemployment rates of seven high-income countries.
The graph shows monthly, seasonally adjusted unemployment rates for Japan, Germany, U.K., U.S., Canada, France, and Italy. These rates are harmonized—that is, the same definition of unemployment is used for all these countries.
U.S. unemployment spiked from 3.5% in February 2020 to 14.7% in April. (It spiked similarly in Canada, from 5.6% to 13%.) But unemployment did not rise significantly in other countries. What explains this difference?
Countries that reduced the spread of COVID-19 early on have had less severe economic contractions, which may help explain the low unemployment rates in Japan and

Read More »

The Fed’s balance sheet : Assets and liabilities of the Federal Reserve Banks

September 21, 2020

A graph is an excellent way to visualize economic data, and FRED gives you the power to construct these graphs. But some data—balance sheets, for example—convey information more clearly in table form.
Say you want to understand the Fed’s response to the current pandemic. A good place to start is the Fed’s balance sheet, which is published weekly: Table 5: Consolidated Statement of Condition of All Federal Reserve Banks.* Here, the consolidated assets and liabilities of the Federal Reserve Banks are offered in three columns: the most recent release, the previous release, and the release from a year ago. (You can also select specific releases using the calendar tool. The data below are as of September 16, 2020.)
Over the past year, the Fed’s assets have grown by about $3.2 trillion. If

Read More »

Staying put during the pandemic: Fewer miles in trains, planes, and automobiles

September 17, 2020

[embedded content]
An earlier FRED Blog post covered the trends and cycles in the average number of miles per person traveled on the road. More recently, we’ve seen changes in all kinds of travel as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The graph above uses data from the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics on the number of miles traveled each month by people riding trains, planes, and automobiles.
A rail passenger-mile is 1 passenger carried 1 mile.
An air revenue passenger-mile is 1 paying passenger carried 1 mile.
And vehicle miles traveled is the sum of the number of roadway miles traveled by each vehicle and (barring unoccupied self-driving cars) amounts to at least 1 person per vehicle per mile.
Before the pandemic, in February 2020, for each mile

Read More »

Early economic effects from “safer at home” practices : What Census data from the Quarterly Services Survey can show us

September 14, 2020

[embedded content]
Social distancing and “safer at home” practices have been in effect for many months now, so what do the data show us so far? These protective measures have had widespread effects across the economy; but some industries were affected much more quickly, as behavioral changes predated any official stay-at-home directives.
Our first example is transportation revenue, which varied according to whether people or goods were being transported: The graph above shows the quarter-to-quarter percent change in seasonally adjusted revenue for air, truck, and ground passenger transportation and couriers and messengers over the past five years. We note contrasting experiences for the four modes in quarters 1 and 2 of 2020.
Airline transportation fell 17.8%, then 78.5%.
Transit and

Read More »

The increasing appetite for air conditioning : Tracking changes in the output of electric and gas utilities

September 10, 2020

[embedded content]
The FRED Blog often discusses the regular economic ups and downs that occur over the course of a year (eg, fruit and house prices). Today, we look at some big changes in the seasonal pattern of electricity and gas production.
The data are from the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System—specifically, the Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization (G.17) survey—which show the quarterly changes in the industrial production of electricity and gas utilities.*
The FRED graph above shows electricity and gas production from 2000 to 2020, which peaks twice per year: in winter (first quarter) and summer (third quarter). For most of these 20 years, the winter and summer peaks have been very similar in value. But that has not always been the case.
[embedded

Read More »

The pandemic’s impact on North American GDP: Checking on the neighbors

September 3, 2020

[embedded content]
An earlier FRED Blog post discussed the global scale of the ongoing pandemic. Today, we focus on some recent GDP values in North America, comparing inflation-adjusted growth for Canada, the United States, and Mexico.
The data shown in this FRED graph are from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which uses the label “GDP in constant prices,” which is a synonym for “real GDP.” (Btw, FRED tends to adopt the series names used by the data source.)
But whether you call it a “tomāto” or a “tomăto,” these inflation-adjusted GDP growth figures show large declines in overall economic activity in Canada, the United States, and Mexico during the second quarter of 2020. The large trade flows among these three countries and the recent reduction in

Read More »

What’s happened so far with the return on safe and liquid assets?

August 31, 2020

[embedded content]
Today, we use an assortment of FRED data to consider a straightforward question: What has happened to the returns on safe assets (in this case, Treasury securities) since the pandemic hit? We look especially at the possible contributions of inflation expectations and demand for liquidity.
The FRED graph above shows
nominal rates for the 1-year Treasury (dark blue) and the 5-year Treasury (red)
the difference between the “instantaneous” 5-year-ahead Treasury rate and the 5-year, 5-year forward expected inflation rate (green)
the difference between corporate bond yields and the 5-year Treasury yield (light blue)
The 1- and 5-year Treasuries are among the safest and most liquid assets in the market, and both rates have dropped considerably since the start of the

Read More »

Seasonality in food prices: A bountiful harvest of FRED data

August 27, 2020

[embedded content]
The FRED Blog has discussed shocks to meat and fish prices related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Shocks are unexpected changes in the supply or demand of a product or commodity that results in a sudden change in its price. Today, we discuss how the timing of harvesting seasons results in predictable changes in the prices of fresh fruit.
The FRED graph above uses data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index, Average Price Data release: It shows the quarterly dollar prices of a pound of Thompson seedless grapes (green circles) and a dry pint of strawberries (red circles).
When grapes are harvested at the end of the summer (the third quarter of the year) and strawberries are picked in the spring (the second quarter of the year), the abundant supply

Read More »

Retail sales in a pandemic recession : Diverse tales by sectors

August 24, 2020

[embedded content]
The FRED graph above shows retail sales for the last year and a half. Of course, the pandemic has had a huge impact, with a severe drop and a quick recovery. But the retail sector is large and diverse. So let’s look at various layers of it.
[embedded content]
This graph is one of the strangest looking ones we’ve ever shown on this blog. And it tells very different stories. Let’s go through them one by one. (Hover over the legend in the graph to better see the respective lines.)
Grocery store sales actually surged with the pandemic. This is likely linked to the substitution from eating out to eating at home, which we discussed earlier on this blog.Alcohol sales increased as well, as discussed in another post.Pharmacies and drug stores are also doing well, likely due

Read More »

The high(er) price of health

August 20, 2020

[embedded content]
Our purchases cost more and more over time, given inflation. Tracking the price index for personal consumption expenditures is one way to measure inflation. And the FRED graph above shows that, since 2000, personal consumption expenditures (purple line) have become 40% more expensive. This amounts to an annual rate of inflation of about 1.8%.
Price indexes can be computed for specific spending categories as well—such as food, energy, and health. The Health Expenditures Price index is also shown in this graph (blue line): It’s the way the Bureau of Economic Analysis tracks the price of heath expenditures for households.
The graph reveals how much faster the price of health expenditures is growing relative to the price of general consumption expenditures: It took 19

Read More »

Supply and demand shocks to food prices: FRED data à la carte : Rising meat prices, falling fish prices

August 17, 2020

[embedded content]
In an earlier post, the FRED Blog discussed the price changes of a classic lunch option. Today, we discuss some dinner options, showing how the market prices for “surf and turf” have changed recently.
The Turf
The graph above uses U.S. consumer price data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to show the percent change in price from a year ago for three “turf” dining options: pork, beef, and chicken. (Btw, We use percent changes from a year ago to account for any seasonal patterns.)
Pork chop prices are clearly hogging a lot of space in the graph. In fact, the average price of pork chops has grown by double digits since April 2020. Sirloin steak prices have also moved up dramatically during the same time period. Chicken prices have also grown, but they are last in

Read More »

The impact of recessions on net worth : Uneven experiences by wealth quantile

August 13, 2020

[embedded content]
Recessions take their toll in many ways, including on households’ net worth, a stock variable that measures the difference between the value of the assets and the value of the liabilities, or obligations, a person has accumulated over a lifetime. And, as you might expect, FRED has data on this topic.
We made some adjustments to the FRED graph shown here that could use a little explanation: We started with a graph of households separated into four different classes according to wealth. We changed the units of the asset data from millions of dollars to an index and then set the base period at the beginning of the Great Recession of 2007-2009.
Now we can compare how these four different classes of households (top 1% in wealth, next 9%, next 40%, and bottom 50%) fared

Read More »

Consumption of goods and services during the COVID-19 recession : Some shirts, some shoes, but a lot less service

August 10, 2020

[embedded content]
First, some background on the line graphs shown above and below: The zero “date” is the start of a recession. The x-axis “periods” are the number of months after the start date. And the data are from the BEA’s Personal Income and Outlay survey.
Now, what do they show? The main revelation is that real personal consumption expenditures on services have decreased since February 2020, the start of the current recession. And, at the time of this writing, expenditures on services remain below their pre-recession levels. The data show that consumption of goods has also decreased, but not as much, and it has largely recovered. So, shirts and shoes notwithstanding, there’s a lot less service.
[embedded content]
This decline in spending on services is significant for two

Read More »

U.S. trade during COVID-19 : Imports and exports have plummeted differently

August 6, 2020

[embedded content]
The recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has included a precipitous decline in U.S. trade: The FRED graph above shows that both imports and exports have declined more than 20% relative to a year ago. This decline may not be too surprising, given that international trade flows are usually more volatile than domestic economic activity. Large changes in economic activity typically feature even larger changes in trade flows.
The only other recent time period with such a decline was early 2009, during the Great Recession. But the graph above shows a key difference between the two recessions: Recently, exports have declined substantially more than imports, which is the opposite of what occurred during the Great Recession.
[embedded content]
The second graph shows

Read More »

New details on mortgage rates : What impact does a FICO score have?

August 3, 2020

[embedded content]
FRED now offers Optimal Blue Mortgage Market Indices, which provide a more-detailed look at mortgage rates. These indices are computed daily from actual mortgage closings and cover about 35% of the U.S. market.
The FRED graph above compares the weekly rates from Freddie Mac (red line) and from Optimal Blue (blue line). The latter also covers mortgages that aren’t managed by Freddie Mac, but with the restriction that they must be “conformable”—that is, the loan amount can’t exceed the limit for the property and its location.
[embedded content]
In the second graph, we see that the loan amount influences the loan rate: The closer your loan is to the full value of the house, the more you have to pay. But the difference doesn’t look too large or unpredictable. Keep in

Read More »