Wednesday , January 20 2021
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

Changes in the U.S.-China trade deficit : Exports and imports before and after tariffs and the pandemic

6 days ago

[embedded content]
Many of the trade policies that began in 2018 were driven by the high and persistent U.S. trade deficit with China. For example, the U.S. announced tariffs on solar panels and washing machines from China in January 2018, which is marked by the first vertical line in the FRED graph above. Several rounds of U.S. tariffs followed, and China enacted retaliatory tariffs.
We start our graph in January 2016 to include data before and during the period when these trade policies were initiated.*
The basic story told by the graph is that U.S. exports to China (in blue) seem to be relatively stable over time, but U.S. imports from China (in red) are more variable and also much larger. So, the bilateral trade deficit (in green), which is the excess of imports over exports,

Read More »

What’s behind the recent surge in the M1 money supply?

9 days ago

[embedded content]
While the terms “money” and “wealth” often mean the same thing in everyday parlance, economists define money more narrowly as the component of wealth consisting of “transaction balances.” That is, if you can use it to buy goods and services and to settle debts, then it’s considered to be money.
Money is distinct from other forms of wealth that first need to be liquidated—that is, converted into money—before their value can be spent. According to this definition, physical currency and checkable bank deposits constitute money. And, indeed, these objects make up the definition of what economists label as the M1 money supply.
Because money is valued as a payment instrument, people are willing to hold a fraction of their wealth in money form for the sake of convenience,

Read More »

Houses sold, newly started, and for sale: Cycles in housing activity

13 days ago

[embedded content]
The FRED Blog has discussed how mortgage interest rates affect decisions in the housing market and how the construction of new housing slowed down after the 2007-2009 Financial Crisis. Today we examine the cycles in sales and new construction.
The FRED graph above shows the percent change from the preceding year in the quarterly number of new single-family houses sold (the orange bars) and in the number of housing starts (the blue bars), which represent new single-family homes under construction. You do not see much of a difference between the two sets of bars because growth in house sales frequently coincides with new housing construction—a.k.a, housing starts. That suggests that a booming (or contracting) housing market rapidly increases (or decreases) new

Read More »

Measuring the stress in the rental industry : Census data show a drop, a big drop, then some recovery for rental space

16 days ago

[embedded content]
The pandemic has tormented many sectors of the economy. The sector we highlight today is rental companies, whose income is captured in the Quarterly Services Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau.
This survey covers only a sample of the rental sector: businesses that employ workers but not, for example, individual landlords. Also, the space being rented may be apartments, residential houses, or commercial real estate. But these data can still be a good proxy for the entire real estate rental industry.
What’s clear from the FRED graph above is that income in this sector has dropped considerably during the pandemic. It was obvious that there would be effects from the nationwide eviction moratorium for unpaid rent. It is unclear, though, whether this is the only mechanism

Read More »

Pandemic-related initial claims for unemployment assistance

23 days ago

View on GeoFRED®
FRED now offers data on pandemic-related initial claims for unemployment assistance. An initial claim is filed by an employee with the state employment agency after losing her/his job. A pandemic-related initial claim is filed by an employee covered under the expanded eligibility criteria specific to the pandemic.
The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program is funded through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which temporarily expanded unemployment insurance eligibility to workers not usually eligible for regular unemployment compensation or extended benefits: e.g., self-employed workers, freelancers, independent contractors, and part-time workers impacted by the pandemic.
The number of these claims varies dramatically from week to

Read More »

In mid-2020, the least wealthy gained the most net worth

December 21, 2020

[embedded content]
The FRED Blog has discussed how the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the net worth of households. To recap: Your net worth is the difference between the value of your assets and the value of your liabilities. When the value of your assets decreases while the value of your liabilities stays constant, your net worth becomes smaller.
The FRED graph above shows that the largest reduction in household net worth during the first quarter of 2020 occurred the wealthiest 1% of households. The high volatility of financial markets during that period and the differences in the distribution of total assets across different classes of households can help explain that.
The same FRED graph also shows that, during the second quarter of 2020, household net worth increased all

Read More »

How staying at home in 2020 affected the transportation industry: Part 3 : Debt as a life raft

December 17, 2020

[embedded content]
We covered transportation equipment in Part 1 of this series and petroleum and coal products in Part 2 [[ ]]. Census Bureau data show that, as their incomes dropped, companies in these industries took out new, long-term debt. And that’s what we discuss here, in Part 3.
The FRED graph above shows “Long-Term Debt Due in More Than 1 Year: Other Long-Term Loans” data for both the transportation equipment manufacturing and petroleum and coal products manufacturing industries. And the graph lets us compare these industries’ debt levels now with their levels during the Great Recession of 2008-2009.
In the second quarter of 2020, transportation equipment manufacturers increased long-term debt by $30.8 billion, up from $250.2 billion in the first quarter of 2020. Petroleum

Read More »

How staying at home in 2020 affected the transportation industry: Part 2 : Less travel, less fuel

December 14, 2020

[embedded content]
We continue our series on recent developments in the transportation industry by looking at petroleum and coal products. Like transportation equipment manufacturing (from Part 1 in the series), petroleum and coal products have been affected by the pandemic’s travel reductions. Unlike transportation equipment manufacturing, looking at net income/loss after taxes doesn’t tell the whole story.
To understand the effects that travel reductions have had on petroleum and coal products, it’s important to compare net income/loss after taxes with another measure: net sales, receipts, and operating revenues.
The FRED graph above shows the petroleum and coal industry’s net income after taxes as well as net sales, receipts, and operating revenues (a.k.a. “sales”). Petroleum and

Read More »

How staying at home in 2020 affected the transportation industry: Part 1 : Profit losses

December 10, 2020

[embedded content]
In 2020, millions of Americans suddenly altered their travel habits, canceled vacations, and worked and learned from home. Data from the Census Bureau’s most recent Quarterly Financial Report (QFR) can help identify some of the effects from these sweeping changes. And in this three-part series, the FRED Blog looks at how Americans’ stay-at-home measures affected profits for two industries:
transportation equipment manufacturing (NAICS 336), which includes
aerospace products and parts manufacturing (NAICS 3364) and
motor vehicles and parts manufacturing (NAICS 3361, 3362, 3363)

petroleum and coal products manufacturing (NAICS 324).
The FRED graph displays data on the net income or loss (after taxes) for the transportation equipment manufacturing industry. In the

Read More »

A history of European exchange rates : Data during and after the Bretton Woods system

December 7, 2020

[embedded content]
The Bretton Woods agreement, signed by 44 nations in 1944, established an international monetary system that
instituted the convertibility of the U.S. dollar to gold
set fixed exchange rates with respect to the dollar
and made the dollar the currency of reference.
The graph above shows the exchange rates for the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain between 1950 and 2017 with respect to the U.S. dollar. (By the way, the data for the euro area countries are calculated in euros using the official conversion rate for the years before the euro.)
It’s easy to see that, during the Bretton Woods era (1950-1971), the exchange rates were fixed, with the exception of a few managed adjustments.
The dashed black line in 1971 marks the year President Nixon

Read More »

COVID-19 and job posting trends

December 3, 2020

[embedded content]
Labor market conditions often follow the movements of the business cycle: Demand for labor rises during an expansion and falls during a contraction. So it’s not surprising that the COVID-19 recession has had an impact on firms’ hiring decisions and job posting trends. What might be surprising, however, is how the pandemic has affected the availability of jobs at different income levels.
The FRED graph here shows the impact of the COVID-19 downturn on job postings: Specifically, it covers the indexed trends on Indeed.com for three different wage tiers. (A previous blog post has more information on these data, if you’re interested.)
Middle- and low-wage occupations saw steeper declines in job postings early in the pandemic, plunging by 41.6% and 40.4%, respectively.

Read More »

Where retail sales have been booming : Sporting goods, home project supplies, and groceries are way up

November 30, 2020

View on GeoFRED®
We recently discussed how some areas in the retail sales sector have suffered dramatic declines during the pandemic. Today, we highlight three areas where sales have actually been booming.
FRED just added monthly state retail sales data from the Census Bureau, and we can enlist the help of GeoFRED to show the details. In the first map, we see that sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, and book stores have been doing remarkably well across the nation. From July 2019 to July 2020, national sales increased 18.7%, with a range of 7.7% to 29.1% across states. People have curtailed some activities during the pandemic, but they added new ones to spend their time on.
View on GeoFRED®
The second map shows building material and garden equipment stores, and it looks like

Read More »

Let’s talk turkey prices : …as well as prices in Turkey

November 23, 2020

[embedded content]
If you know this blog, you may have been expecting a holiday-themed post this week. We did our best, but—spoiler alert—it’s a bait and switch. We don’t have any recent price data on turkey meat. What we do have are recent price data on meat in Turkey. And, as you can see from the FRED graph above, that nation suffers from chronically high price inflation. (FYI: FRED has over 2,000 series of Turkish data.)
This year, Thanksgiving is more challenging in the U.S. not just for travelers but also for statistical agencies. The data-collection process for many of the series available in FRED has been disrupted by the pandemic, as agencies scramble to change their procedures to accommodate health guidelines and changing economic practices.
One example is the price of

Read More »

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

November 19, 2020

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

November 16, 2020

[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

November 12, 2020

[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

November 9, 2020

[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

November 5, 2020

[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

November 2, 2020

[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

October 29, 2020

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

October 26, 2020

[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 »