Economics Update (January-March 1996)

Unpublished Data May Augment
Regional Retail Sales Information

nalysts routinely use retail sales data as a barometer of the nation's economic health. The hitch is that there are data, and then there are unpublished data.

In a recent Economic Review article, Gustavo A. Uceda, an economic analyst for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, suggested that the less-reliable unpublished data still may prove to be valuable as a supplement to the published data. He examined the range of historical, geographic, and product information in the retail sales data to determine whether those factors offset the unpublished data's limitations, specifically, the small sample size and volatility. He also explored the relationships between regional retail sales and regional employment and concluded that retail sales data do contain information useful in predicting regional employment series.

The monthly data—published and unpublished—come from the U.S. Department of Commerce, which surveys about 12,500 retail establishments nationwide.

The published data report the value of retail sales in specific categories for the nation, four geographic regions, nine census divisions, 19 states, 25 metropolitan areas, and 19 suburban areas. In the Southeast, the data are broken down only for Florida, Louisiana, and Tennessee, and for the Atlanta, Miami-Hialeah, Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, and Miami-Fort Lauderdale areas.

The unpublished data add nine additional states or areas, including Georgia. The unpublished data also include additional information on consumer spending in states and metropolitan areas.

When releasing this unpublished data, the Commerce Department makes clear, however, that the estimates are not as statistically reliable as the data series published in Monthly Retail Trade—Sales and Inventories.

After examining the relationships between the retail trade data and other economic factors, Uceda concluded that the unpublished data can be useful in analyzing and forecasting regional economic trends, which help retailers, developers, and others make business decisions. He urged further research into the role of unpublished data.

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