The Hidden Gem of Economic Indicators

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“Everyone my name is omar a wooden of the us census bureau and i d d like to welcome everyone listening today to today s podcast entitled the hidden gem economic indicators. Where we re going to discuss economic business data specifically indicator data and the quarterly services survey. Many of you know the us census bureau measures people places and economy. We provide a wide range of data to help businesses in your area.

Succeed and grow and to help you make data driven decisions we conduct surveys and release data monthly quarterly and annually. As well as an economic census. Every five years and other periodic reports we provide data on various sectors of the economy including construction international trade manufacturing wholesale trade retail trade and services you know we could probably be here all day. If we talked about all the information and resources that we have available for you.

But today. We re going to be focusing on the quarterly services. Report. An economic indicator developed from our quarterly services survey.

Also known as the qss. I d like to introduce scott schuyler who is one of the assistant division chiefs here at the census bureau hey scott i think we re gonna have a great time today it s good to see you there good to see you too a mark cool so looking at your title. I see that you oversee the consumption and wholesale indicators. Can you explain what an indicator is and and and what exactly is the purpose of it yeah what does an indicator.

I guess that s as good a place to start as any an economic indicator is a snapshot of economic data used by investors businesses and policymakers to interpret current or future investment possibilities and judge the overall health of the economy here at the census bureau. We produced 13 of these indicators. Nine monthly and four quarterly in the consumption in wholesale indicators area we released four of these 13 including retail sales wholesale inventories business inventories and services revenue. Okay that s interesting it s interesting that you mentioned monthly and quarterly data.

So during the introduction any overview. I mentioned that there s a five year sin is both for economic and government data. So what s the difference between an economic indicator and annual survey and even a five year census program. Yeah that s a good question generally for most sectors.

The indicators annual and the five year census programs actually work together to measure a given part of the economy for example. The indicator survey provides the most timely information. But isn t always at the finest level of detail as far as something like geography or products the annual survey data. Adds.

More details such as adding information on expenses or payroll or products. But on a more delayed basis. And then the five year..


Census serves as the foundation for many of our programs due to the comprehensive coverage. It provides across products industries geographies. But because of all that granularity takes the most time to process and release. Okay okay got you so it s okay.

That s a good distinction between the different types of programs. So basically the longer the time the more detail can be provided. But the more timely. It s more of a snapshot of the industry.

Exactly okay so now you mentioned in one of the programs that you oversee is the quarterly services survey. Tell me more about that program. Yeah. The quarterly services survey or what we call qss is actually the newest official economic indicator from the census bureau.

Although it actually has been around since 2004 people may not realize that services makes up roughly about two thirds of the personal consumption expenditures or we ll refer to as pce estimates in the quarterly gdp measures that are produced by the bureau of economic analysis. Or ba. The qss revenue data is the primary input to this component. Which is commonly referred to as consumer spending.

However. We don t only measure revenue also included with this release our expenses revenues by class of customer for some sectors. Where there are measurable sales to businesses or government inpatient days discharges for hospitals. The service sectors recover is so diverse.

I bet you would be surprised amari and how broad the coverages in this release for example health care. That s in this release. Finance and insurance. In this release.

Spectator sports is in this room. Okay hold on i got you want to health care. Understood finance and insurance mean spectator sport. But good morning yep believe it or not revenue from industries in the performing arts and spectator sports are including in our north american industry classification sector 71 arts entertainment and recreation this includes things like performing arts companies sports teams museums amusement parks amongst.

The various categories and not only do we have revenue from those industries. But we also break out that revenue to show how much of that revenue comes from actually admissions fees to those parks. Ok ok ok so let me let me try a couple..


What about software. Publishers. Yep that s in this ok. I plan on going on vacation to summer.

Travel. Agencies and you will get that data here ok. I just had issue with my car car dealerships. Ok.

Now you re pushing your luck. Oh ok now that s retail. Ok. But we do capture automotive repair and automotive rental and a quarterly services survey.

This is an example of we re using multiple sources together can provide a full picture of related industries. Engine. You know it s interesting because this really sounds like it provides a really comprehensive and informative information. How can people or organizations use this information well.

I highlighted one used earlier by our sister agency ba. But other federal agencies also use this data. The centers for medicare and medicaid services or cms use our health care data to develop hospital spending estimates for the national health expenditure accounts. So you analyze hospital spending trends and to use in health care publications.

Forecasts and studies that they do in addition the federal reserve board and council of economic advisors rely on this data to help present the overall picture of the nation s economic performance. But really what s most interesting is that the users isn t limited to just federal agencies companies themselves can use qss data or any indicator data for that matter and to measure themselves against overall performance in their industry. And because the quarterly services survey. Is directly tied to the service annual survey and the five year economic census.

This data can all be used together to predict future demand and aid in planning that companies might want to do that that s impressive so you talk so much about what s there. What s comprehensive. What is not captioning. The data that someone may assume should be included yeah.

I guess. There s always a catch right. But in this case..


The catch isn t always bad. The service sector is large in both scope and dollars. But not all of it actually covered in qss. The quarterly services does not capture food services.

But that s because food services. Is actually measured monthly as part of the monthly retail trade program. And some components of the service sectors are not included such as rail transportation government owned utilities or religious and political organization that but that s consistent with our economic census. Coverage as some of these components are actually covered in other surveys across the bureau or across the federal government and you can actually find that full list of inclusion exclusions at our website at.

Censusgov. Slash services gotcha okay so this has been a great background to give us a sense of the qss or the quarterly services survey. But i realized you just put out a release back on december 11th. What did that information know what did that report show and now to the good stuff.

There the data. The stuff. I really like so from the third quarter of 2019 total revenue for selected services was actually four point one trillion. Dollars which is up about 15.

Percent. From the second quarter of 2019 and up about four point nine percent from the third quarter of 2018 on a seasonally adjusted basis. The information sector increased one point six percent from the second quarter of 2019 and within that sector revenue from data processing. Hosting and related services was a five point five percent seasonally adjusted included in this release are not just quarterly trends.

But year to date trends and now that the you know we re getting closer to the end of 2019. These numbers are taking on more significance as a measuring stick for the 2019 performance as a whole. So for the first three quarters of 2019 over all selected services total revenue was up five point two percent not seasonally adjusted over the first three quarters of 2018. Okay so one thing you mentioned is that the comparison of back to 2018 people like to see historical data and track trends.

Over time how far back to this qss. Go well qss was first released in september 2004. Publishing data beginning with the fourth quarter of 2003. So some sectors go back all the way to the beginning in fact when we first introduced qss sector.

51 information was actually the top line number highlighted in the release. But since 2004. Qss has expanded a couple of times to cover more service sectors..


In fact some series don t begin until recently 20 13 okay this includes our seasonally adjusted selected services total which is the top line number now cited in our quarterly press. Release. So given we re looking back so far have you noticed any interesting trends in the data well having seasonally adjusted estimates allows you to compare quarters over time looking at the fourth quarter of 2003 data in our current time series. The information sector.

Which includes industries such as publishing telecommunications and broadcasting has grown from two hundred twenty nine point six billion dollars to four hundred forty point five billion. An increase of almost 92 percent a little less than 16 years of course you can dive deeper into that data. And you can see varying trends revenue of newspaper publishers for instance has declined from eleven point eight billion in the third quarter of oh six to five point nine billion in the third quarter of 2019. Which is a decline of around 50 percent in 13 years while software publishers has increased about 130 percent.

I m thirty two point two billion to seventy three point nine billion in that same period of time. Yeah. That s impressive ekiden imagine that the ability to look back 15 years at the service industries. I m sure there were services today that have changed tremendously a little bit over that time period.

So given that look back what s now on the horizon for qss and what does your air you have in terms of improvements or possible changes that might be coming up. Well. The staff is constantly working to provide more useful and timely information in 2017. We rolled out an early snapshot of the qss report in order to provide users with services data as early as we possibly could and last year we expanded our estimates to reflect 26 additional series on a seasonally adjusted basis which is critical for comparing data between periods and is a key component of economic indicators.

This upcoming march we are excited to add seasonal adjusted estimates for an additional sixty two industries this will allow users even more granularity and value to compare data across quarters and years. With each with excellent excellent all right thanks. Scott yeah. Thanks tomorrow.

Thanks for having me. Good. Good. I think.

This was a great overview of the quarterly services survey. Clearly. This is an exceptional resource for anyone looking to learn more about the services industry in addition with the historical information that you mentioned you can look at historical trends over a long period of time. So.

If you found today s podcast. Informative and helpful and would like to learn more please visit us at wwf if you want to learn more about the quarterly services survey data please visit us at ” ..

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