Understanding the US Economic Data Schedule

Here is a schedule of the major US economic numbers in the order in which they are released for May 2008. The key to understanding data releases is to see how they fit in to the overall economic picture. There are many economic calendars available on the internet for free such as here and here.

The best overall picture of the economy is the GDP (approximately the measure of all goods and services produced in the US during the calendar quarter); as you can see from the table below, the first estimate of GDP for the second quarter of 2008 (which covers the period April 1 until June 30) will be released on July 31, 2008 and then be revised twice, producing a final number on September 26. But there will be much information available to the market about the economy in May 2008 before then, starting with the unemployment claims data released on May 8.

Economists who analyze the data follow all these releases (some more than others, based on their experience and research) and form a continually changing picture. Releases in red attract more than the usual amount of attention. Alert investors will be aware of upcoming data releases that can affect the markets and plan accordingly. As this site is updated, there will be links to various specific releases such as the employment report; by clicking on these links you can learn more about the informational content of the report. There are many ways to use these data (there are many economists who find employment analyzing these data at different institutions) and there are almost as many views as to which releases are most important. What follows are one economist’s views.

Below is the release schedule for May 2008 data; while the order of data release varies a bit from one month to the next, thinking about these releases as a group should help you understand how the market learns about the economy.

The general pattern is that survey data is available first; these include surveys of businesses by regional Federal Reserves and surveys of consumers. Surveys of the labor market are also available relatively early, including weekly jobless claims (the number of workers who lost jobs who are applying for unemployment benefits, see here for my take) and the employment report (a survey of businesses and households that measures the amount of work done and the number of people who would like to work but have not found jobs; see here for a fuller description).

In general, economists pay more attention to data about what people and businesses have done (employment, retail sales and so forth) than what they say they might do (consumer and business surveys). But economists are willing to work with whatever they have and use the survey data until the actual data arrive later.

Date Release
May 8 Unemployment Claims (description)
May 15 Philadelphia Fed Survey
May 15 New York Fed Survey (Empire State)
May 16 Michigan Sentiment Index
May 27 Conference Board consumer confidence
May 30 Chicago PMI
June 2 ISM index
June 3 Auto sales
June 4 Nonmanufacturing ISM
June 6 Employment report (description)
June 11 Treasury Budget
June 12 Export and Import Prices
June 12 Retail Sales
June 13 Consumer Price Index
June 17 Producer Price Index
June 17 Housing Starts
June 17 Industrial Production
June 19 Leading Indicators
June 25 Durable Orders
June 25 New Home Sales
June 26 Existing Home Sales
June 27 Personal Income and Outlays
July 1 Construction Spending
July 2 Factory Orders
July 10 International Trade
July 12 Business Inventories
July 31 Advance 2007:III GDP
August 28 Preliminary 2007:III GDP
September 26 Final 2007:III GDP

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