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The alternative indicator edge

Thursday, May 07, 2015 - 02:05

Taking the pulse of the U.S. economy can take many forms, from dog shows and food stamp usage, to wedding commercials. Bobbi Rebell reports.

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Dogs may be man's best friend, but man's best economic indicator? Well, maybe just a little. Investors, fed up with the mixed signals from all the official data points, are looking for new ways to figure out what is really going on with the economy. Reuters' correspondent Jessica Toonkel. SOUNDBITE: JESSICA TOONKEL, CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS (ENGLISH) SAYING: "The investor who tracks dog shows says, this is like the ultimate expendable money, right? This is disposable income at its finest, and she goes to dog shows that tend to be more middle class. So, she thinks it's a great indicator of 'are people willing to part with their money for these shows,' and she is seeing attendance go down. So, she is saying that's not a great sign for the economy." Toonkel points out that traditional measures don't always give the most current state of the health of the economy. The methodology behind government jobs report hasn't been updated since 1948 and still looks back a month. Another example: figuring out household formation and population growth because both can power the economy. The birth rate went down in 2013. That is the most recent data available. But weddings ads offer more updated information. They have been picking up, which means household formation, and in time, more babies. ConvergEx Group's chief market strategist Nick Colas' favorite indicator for tracking the health of small business: large truck sales SOUNDBITE: NICK COLAS, CHIEF MARKET STRATEGIST, CONVERGEX (ENGLISH) SAYING: "That has been one of the brighter spots. We've seen pickup trucks go from roughly 70,000 units a month during the recession, up to 170,000 now. So, at least the small business side of America is doing better. " He also watches food stamps, and sees trouble. SOUNDBITE: NICK COLAS, CHIEF MARKET STRATEGIST, CONVERGEX (ENGLISH) SAYING: "We've only had about a million and a half incrementally lower food stamp participation since the peak about two years ago. That tells us the economy isn't recovering all that quickly, because food stamps is a means tested program, and clearly a lot of households, twenty percent of American households, don't have the means yet to come off that program." But he adds that traditional indicators, like the jobs report, should always be respected. Even if they lag or sometimes miss the mark, the markets will react, and the smart investors will be paying attention.

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The alternative indicator edge

Thursday, May 07, 2015 - 02:05