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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

Changes in retail sales: Not by bread alone

20 hours ago

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The FRED Blog has previously discussed the impact of social distancing on retail sales for food and beverages. In today’s post, the pie graphs break down retail sales for items other than food and beverages.
The first graph shows consumer shopping habits in February 2020, before social distancing was mandated or encouraged across the U.S. At that time, the largest non-food category was motor vehicle and parts dealers.
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The second pie graph shows the same categories of retail sales in April 2020, a full month after social distancing. Note how sales from non-store retailers, which include home delivery sales and electronic shopping, is now the largest category. You may also notice the category that has contracted the most is clothing and clothing

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The GDP of Washington, DC : The FRED Blog’s 600th post

5 days ago

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The FRED Blog’s 600th post concentrates on Washington, DC—partly because “DC” is 600 in Roman numerals, but also because DC’s GDP might surprise you.
The District of Columbia isn’t a state and is invisible on GeoFRED maps of the U.S., but in many respects it’s treated like a state. At the time of this writing, FRED has 2,001 data series about the District of Columbia, most from state-level sources.
DC has 0.2% of the U.S. population, which is larger than the population of both Vermont and Wyoming. DC has 0.7% of the nation’s GDP, which is larger than the GDP of 16 states and is equal to the combined GDPs of Vermont, Wyoming, and Montana. The FRED graph above shows DC and 11 of those states with smaller GDP. (We’d show all 16, but FRED graphs limit the number of

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New data on the real estate market : Visualizing seasonality in house listings and prices

12 days ago

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FRED keeps adding new data.* The latest batch is detailed data on the housing market from Realtor.com. The FRED graph above shows the well-known seasonal pattern in the number of properties actively on sale: The real estate market is much thinner in the winter, and sellers often wait for spring to put their properties up for sale.
But not everyone can wait. Financial circumstances, job-related moves, or new family situations may force an owner to put a house up for sale at a moment that’s not optimal. On the other side of the market, job or family circumstances may force some people to look for a house when it’s not the best time to do so.
It turns out the first story is more common: that is, too many sellers chasing too few buyers (at least in relative terms).

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WTI vs. Brent oil prices: When and why do they diverge?

15 days ago

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West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and Brent crude oil prices generally track each other pretty closely,* although their levels can be different. In 2011, though, the two prices diverged. You can also read more here and here, but let’s talk about the details.
The FRED graph above shows the prices per barrel of WTI and Brent crude from 2010 to present. Before 2011, the average price of a barrel of WTI was $35.34 and the average price of a barrel of Brent was $34.00.
Price differences can reflect the ease of refining, the geography of where the oil is produced, costs of transportation to where the contracts are fulfilled, and political and economic conditions in the regions where the oil is sold. But the increasing price differential in 2011 is often attributed to the

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The largest changes in payroll employment : Comparing April 2020’s social distancing and August 1983’s AT&T strike

19 days ago

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The April 2020 changes in payroll employment are unprecedented in scale, but their nature is familiar.
The FRED graph above shows the monthly percentage change in payroll employment across all service-providing industries since 1939. Although the most recent reduction in leisure and hospitality employment (the red bar on the far right edge of the graph) has been the largest, both in magnitude and in proportion to the size of the industry’s labor force, we can compare it to a somewhat similar event: the American Telephone & Telegraph Co. union workers’ strike of August 1983 (the blue bars at the center of the graph).
Both reductions in employment were orchestrated: In 1983, the labor stoppage was to achieve better working conditions; in 2020, the labor stoppage has

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Data on families : Maps and charts for Mother’s Day

22 days ago

View on GeoFRED®
Did you remember to call your mother yesterday? Did you send flowers? Why not also send her a (belated) FRED dataset? Above is one example—a colorful GeoFRED map showing county-level data on single-parent households with children. Below is another—a pie chart showing the percentages of family types with their own children: married couples, single mothers, and single fathers.
Once you’ve selected some FRED data, explore more graph formats by clicking on “Edit Graph” from the series page. You can get to the series page for the FRED data shown here by clicking on “View on GeoFRED” and “Customize” at the bottom of the image. From the “Format” tab, navigate through the options, including colors and patterns.
And don’t forget to say “Thank you” to Mom!
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Reckoning with premature deaths : CDC data on premature deaths for the St. Louis area

26 days ago

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The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone in some way. The mildest cases involve inconveniences such as being confined at home to avoid spreading the virus. Other cases involve unemployment, lost businesses, and accumulating debt. The worst cases involve coping with the premature deaths of loved ones.
Each death—and its associated life—has unique and powerful elements. Yet, some deaths can be considered more “normal” than others, especially if they’re associated with very old age. The FRED graph above explores CDC data on premature deaths for FRED’s hometown, St. Louis city, as well as neighboring St. Louis County (separate from the city). Solid lines show the crude rates while dashed lines show the age-adjusted rates from 1999 to 2017.
According to the CDC, the

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Labor force participation rates of armed forces veterans : May the force be with you

29 days ago

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The FRED Team has been reporting on a lot of dire economic data lately. Today, May the 4th, offers the chance for some light(saber)ness—using a multilayered Star Wars pun to salute our armed forces.
The FRED Blog has shown the labor force participation rates of men and women worldwide—in the U.S. and across the OECD. Today, we look at the labor force participation rate of men and women veterans of the U.S. armed forces.
The men’s rate is the solid orange line, the women’s rate is the solid magenta line, and the average across both genders is the dashed red line. As with the labor force participation rate of the overall civilian population, the rates in this graph are decreasing.
Notice how different the labor force participation rates of veteran men and women are,

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Household debt meets corporate debt

April 30, 2020

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Households take on debt for a variety of reasons, such as financing education and purchasing a house. Household debt in the U.S. increased from 59% of GDP in 1990 to 98% of GDP in 2009, and many economists argue that the Great Recession was “Great” because household leverage was so high at the time. It has since declined steadily. In fact, in 2019, household debt and corporate debt were the closest they have been in nearly 30 years.
The FRED graph above shows both series as a percentage of GDP: household debt and corporate debt. Household debt has exceeded corporate debt since the early 1990s, and this difference was particularly large in the years leading up to the Financial Crisis of 2008. For instance, in the third quarter of 2006, household debt was greater

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Medical services spending : A look back at expenditures on treating diseases in the U.S.

April 27, 2020

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The FRED Blog has covered healthcare before. (See the list of related posts below.) In this post, we look at pre-pandemic data on medical services spending in the U.S., specifically by category of illness.
Per the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA): “To better measure spending trends and treatment prices, BEA developed a set of supplemental statistics called the Health Care Satellite Account. These statistics give policymakers, researchers and the public another way of understanding the economics of health care. The satellite account measures U.S. health care spending by the diseases being treated (for example, cancer or diabetes) instead of by the types of goods and services purchased (such as doctor’s office visits or drugs).”
These data, available for 2000-2016,

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Eating out or staying in? FRED says bon appétit

April 23, 2020

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The FRED Blog has used data from the Census Bureau’s advance retail sales release table to compare the choice of spending outlets over time and to plot the relationship between gasoline prices and sales at gasoline stations. Today we use the “advance retail sales” data available for March 2020 to show another dimension of the social distancing required to manage the spread of COVID-19.
In the FRED graph above, the data show fairly steady growth of retail sales at restaurants and bars (the black line) catching up to retail sales at food and beverage stores (the red line) in August 2018. Note that to be able to compare sales figures over time, those figures are adjusted for the cost of living. The very last observations look like vertical lines because social

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The decline in industrial production: One for the ages

April 20, 2020

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On Tuesday, April 15, the Federal Reserve released the industrial production (IP) index for March. You have to go to the very far right data point in the FRED graph to see it, but industrial activity plunged in March because of the economic effects stemming from social-distancing orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of businesses have closed or been disrupted, and mass layoffs have occurred. But the March IP index of 103.66 is still far higher than the level registered during the depth of the recession and financial crisis, which was 87.07 in June 2009.
The IP index is one of the nation’s longest continuously produced economic indicators, starting in January 1919. It measures production (real output) of manufacturers, mining (e.g., oil and natural

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Things to know about initial claims data : A deeper look at initial unemployment insurance claims

April 16, 2020

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Initial claims for unemployment benefits have spiked to historic levels over the past few weeks. For the week ending April 4, over 6.6 million claims were made. As of this morning, for the week ending April 11, this number is 5.2 million claims.
The initial claims series is an important economic indicator for several reasons.
First, it’s weekly. Many other indicators are updated much less frequently: For example, nonfarm payroll data are monthly, and gross domestic product data are quarterly.
Second, there’s a short collection lag. One week’s data become public information only five days after that week is complete. The number for April 4 was made available April 9, and the number for April 11 was made available today (April 16).
Third, because it’s based on

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Coronavirus effects on exchange rates

April 13, 2020

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This FRED graph shows several exchange rates relative to the U.S. dollar. We start with the date January 6, 2020, where we set the index values equal to 100 for all these exchange rates so we can compare their relative changes since then. Through the end of February, most of these exchange rates have remained relatively stable; however, they began to increase in March. Brazil’s and Mexico’s exchange rates spiked, and their currencies have depreciated nearly 30% since the beginning of January.
In March, the COVID-19 pandemic became more severe, affecting overall economies as well as exchange rates. Reduced global demand for commodities such as oil has sent commodities prices crashing; Mexico and Brazil are major commodities-exporting countries. Canada’s and the

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Oil prices and expected inflation

April 9, 2020

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Since the end of the Great Recession, market-based measures of long-run inflation expectations have seemed highly correlated with the spot price of oil. To see what we mean, consider the FRED graph above, where we plot the price of oil (West Texas Intermediate) against the 5-year, 5-year forward expected inflation rate. This measure of expected inflation is calculated using measured yield differentials between nominal and inflation-protected Treasury securities (TIPs) at 10- and 5-year maturities. (To further highlight the correlation, consider the scatter plot of the same data below.)
The 5-year, 5-year forward rate is meant to capture the bond market’s 5-year average forecast of inflation beginning 5 years from now. In this way, anything expected to affect the

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Social distancing and employment loss in leisure and hospitality

April 6, 2020

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The FRED Blog has used the Current Employment Statistics from the Establishment Data Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics before. Past posts cover the ups-and-downs of payroll employment in the information industry and the increasing proportion of women in the workforce.
Today, we use that rich data source to learn more about the reduction in overall payroll employment in March 2020—the first reduction in ten years.
The FRED graph above compares the job losses in the goods-producing industry (mining & lodging; construction; and manufacturing) with the job losses in the service-providing industry (trade, transportation & utilities; information; financial activities; professional and business services; education and health services; leisure and hospitality; and

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Unexpected changes to the benchmark U.S. interest rate : Discretion is the better part of valor

April 2, 2020

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Quoting from the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System website: “The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) is the monetary policymaking body of the Federal Reserve System… The FOMC schedules eight meetings per year, one about every six weeks or so. The Committee may also hold unscheduled meetings as necessary to review economic and financial developments.”

One of those unscheduled meetings took place on Sunday, March 15. At that time, the FOMC announced a reduction in the benchmark U.S. interest rate target range by a full percentage point. This decision was made ahead of the regularly scheduled March 17-18 meeting. How often does the FOMC do this? That is, how often does it change its monetary policy target without waiting for a regularly scheduled

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Bank lending standards and loan growth : Monitoring lending activity in troubled times

March 30, 2020

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One of the many serious concerns about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is that affected firms will find it difficult to continue to pay interest and principal on their outstanding bank loans, while many firms will require additional loans to tide them over until normal levels of economic activity resume. It’s likely banks will want to help their customers weather the downturn, but some might be reluctant or incapable of extending a large volume of new loans, particularly when the specter of a possible, perhaps likely, recession looms.
A reliable indicator of the willingness of banks to make loans is the Fed’s quarterly Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey on Bank Lending Practices. Researchers find that bank lending tends to slow after an increase in the percentage

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The St. Louis Fed’s Financial Stress Index, Version 2.0

March 26, 2020

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Economists, banking regulators, policymakers, and financial market analysts use a variety of indicators to monitor financial market conditions. Many indicators are constructed from market-based prices, since information about the health of the economy, a bank, or a firm is often reflected in equity and debt markets. So market prices are forward-looking indicators of potential changes in economic and financial conditions.
The best known macroeconomic measures are interest rate spreads between so-called “risk-free” and “risky” securities. For example, the spread between long-term and short-term Treasury yields—often termed the yield curve—tends to be a reliable forecaster of future economic growth. (See McCracken, 2018, and Owyang and Shell, 2016.)
To help the public

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Fourth large-scale asset purchases program: A new hope

March 23, 2020

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We’ve previously discussed the tapering of the three large-scale asset purchase programs popularly known as “quantitative easing.” On Sunday, March 15, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) brought back this unconventional monetary policy tool. The FOMC directed the New York Fed’s Open Market Trading Desk (the Desk) to purchase at least $500 billion worth of Treasury securities and at least $200 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities. These asset purchases are called unconventional policy measures to distinguish them from the management of the federal funds rate through open market sales and purchases of short-term Treasury securities.
The graph above shows the purchase programs started on November 2008, November 2010, and September 2012. Each program had

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Tracking the U.S. economy and financial markets during the COVID-19 outbreak : Use FRED dashboards to monitor the economy

March 19, 2020

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

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Population and income disparity in the St. Louis MSA

March 16, 2020

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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

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Pie charts for Pi Day : FRED offers a variety of keen ways to display data

March 12, 2020

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.
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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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Calculating the value of women’s unpaid work : U.S. women’s unpaid labor basically equals the state GDP of New York

March 9, 2020

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Yesterday was International Women’s Day, so FRED is taking the opportunity to examine one economic contribution from women that’s often ignored: The value of women’s domestic labor that goes unpaid.
For this calculation, we use Oxfam’s methodology: We calculate the total amount of hours that women spend doing unpaid household work and then use the minimum wage to put a dollar value on that work: 
Take the number of women above age 16 and multiply by 26.7 hours, which is, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average number of hours per week women spend on unpaid household work.
Multiply this weekly value by 52, the number of weeks in a year.
Multiply the result by the federal minimum wage.
Divide this annual dollar amount by the consumer price index to

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The economic impact of a pandemic : Wages during the Spanish Influenza

March 5, 2020

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How does a pandemic affect an economy? Obviously, it’s a multilayered topic and FRED has limits to what it can reveal. The good news, of course, is that large-scale pandemics are rare. So the economic effects for most of these outbreaks are hard to see by graphing data. But we can take two of the most extreme examples, which will have visible effects in the data: the Black Death of the mid 14th century and the Spanish flu of 1918-1920.
We already covered the first one in a post from December 2018. So we look at the second one today: the influenza outbreak of 1918, commonly known as the Spanish flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this pandemic infected about a third of the world’s population and killed at least 50 million people.

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Does the local economy influence voters? : A look at state median household income growth

March 2, 2020

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The health of our local economy affects our outlook, which in turn can affect our decisionmaking, including how we cast our votes. Some classic research shows the economy is an important factor in national elections; and some newer research specifically links disposable income and military casualties to election results.
FRED has data to help you traverse the economic landscape during elections. This map shows the growth rate of median U.S. household income state by state.
Median is defined as the value at which half the households are above and half below. In a majority election, for example, the median voter would be the determining factor. We look at households here, which obviously could include several voters.
We transformed the raw data on household income to a

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Trade between the U.S. and China: Steady as she goes?

February 27, 2020

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For years now, we’ve been talking about the tempest of tariffs and trade wars between the U.S. and China. The FRED graph above doesn’t reveal all the effects, but it gives us the big picture by tracking overall imports, exports, and the trade balance for goods. Clearly, U.S.-China trade has grown tremendously over the decades, along with a large trade surplus for China. But things haven’t changed in any substantial way for the past 10 years. The composition of traded goods today may be different from what it used to be, but there’s nothing remarkable happening in the aggregate.
A few more ideas:
The units for imports and exports are in natural logarithms, which we’ve used before to evenly display changes over time.
FRED has data only for traded goods, not services;

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A house divided against itself cannot stand : Explaining the composition effect in housing prices

February 24, 2020

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Our recent post on women in the workforce included a lyric from Dolly Parton and an explanation of the composition effect. Here’s the formal definition: “The part of the observed between-group difference in the distribution of some economic outcome that can be explained by differences in the distribution of covariates.”
That’s a doozy of a definition, so let’s use a picture that’s worth 1,000 words to explain it… The graph shows the year-to-year growth rate of average home prices in the United States (blue bars) and in its 20 largest metropolitan areas (red bars). The blue bars and red bars generally extend in the same direction, although by different magnitudes. Because these top 20 metropolitan areas are part of the United States, it’s not surprising both sets of

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Currency arbitrage in the precious metals market: A gold rush?

February 20, 2020

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FRED’s as good as gold, and the FRED Blog has used London Bullion Market Association data to prove it. In fact, our previous post tracks gold prices and appraises the new gold bar at the St. Louis Fed. Now these gold prices are quoted in three different currencies—U.S. dollars, British pounds, and euros—which is a golden opportunity to discuss arbitrage.
Arbitrage is the risk-free purchase and sale of an asset to profit from a difference in price across markets. Because the gold fixing price is quoted in three different currencies at once, it’s possible that one could make a profit by buying and selling gold in different currencies and then selling the currencies. For example: buy gold in U.S. dollars, sell the gold right away in British pounds, and then convert

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The price and weight of a bar of gold : Raise the bar at the St. Louis Fed’s Economy Museum

February 13, 2020

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The U.S. Mint is missing one gold bar.
No. This isn’t the plot of a National Treasure sequel. It’s the latest addition to the St. Louis Fed’s Economy Museum: a 9.75” long, 1.5” tall bar of gold on loan from the Mint. Because the bar is 99.999% pure gold, it weighs 28 pounds! So, how much does a 28-pound gold bar cost?
Let’s use FRED data to figure out the price of this bar, which is on display, coincidentally, right across from the museum’s FRED exhibit.
Although some people see gold as a hedge against inflation, the graph above shows just how volatile the price of gold can be. Here, we have the “fixing price” of a troy ounce of gold in U.S. dollars in the London bullion market. London is the largest trading center for precious metals, and gold prices are reported

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