Thursday, April 1, 2010

Sourcing Economic Data

Here’s an Easter special; this article is about efficiently sourcing economic data. Traditionally what you will do if you want to know e.g. US GDP data is to go to the official website (i.e. the Bureau of Economic Analysis) or if you want to know Chinese CPI you go to the National Bureau of Statistics website. But this article is more about how to efficiently and easily find all sorts of economic data in single (or a few) sources.

For the most part the data in the sources described below is still very reliable, and tends to be easily or directly comparable to other countries on the same database. So it cuts down time used in searching for (and through) official statistics websites, and reduces problems about comparability.

So here they are, the top 5 sources for free, easy to use, easy to compare economic statistics:

1. IMF (International Monetary Fund)
The IMF has a wealth of information available on a yearly basis within its World Economic Outlook databases. You can find statistics on GDP, Balance of Payments, National Debt, Government Debt, Inflation, Population, International Trade, and so-on. The upside is that the data is authoritative and reliable, and exists for many different countries, and often has projections or forecasts out a few years. The downside is that the data is generally only available on an annual or yearly frequency.


2. OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development
Somewhat similar to the IMF, the OECD data is equally authoritative, but generally much more detailed. OECD provides aggregated statistics on a quarterly as well as annual basis, and for some data sets on a monthly basis. For example you can find quarterly GDP figures on their free database. The downside is that it basically only covers OECD countries (plus a small handful of others e.g.China).


3. Trading Economics
Trading Economics is a reasonably new source. It is a private organization and as such is starting to charge for its data/analysis. But there is still a wealth of data available on the website for free. Trading Economics tends to update more quickly than the IMF and OECD databases, also it tends to have more trading/markets/investing related data e.g. indicators like consumer confidence, industrial production, etc. They've also recently expanded their data sets to include commodities, bonds, etc; overall somewhat like a web-based Bloomberg. Trading Economics is definitely worth a look.


4. Free Lunch (Moody’s
Similar to Trading Economics, Free Lunch is a private source (owned by the rating agency, Moody's). There is a wealth of free and paid information available on Free Lunch, but the main drawback is that it’s mostly focused on the US market (unless you want to pay). Still it’s a source worthy of note.


5. FRED (Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis)
Last but not least is the FRED database on the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis website. The FRED database is a great resource as it allows you to compose graphs on-screen through a variety of time periods, styles, and datasets. However similar to Free Lunch, FRED also primarily focuses on the US economy; but if that’s what you’re interested in then this is a key resource for you.


This list is almost certainly not exhaustive, (for instance you could also invest in a Bloomberg terminal if you have the resources) but if you know of any other good aggregated economic data sources worthy of mention then please let me know or post a comment. Ultimately though the data is only as good as the analysis, and more importantly it only really tells you where we’ve been. Also the data tends to be at a high level; so if you want greater detail you’ll need to go to the original source. Anyway if you’re a regular consumer of economic data and market news it pays to be aware of these websites and to make good use of them.

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