Covid-19 Economic Shutdown Finds Traditional Metrics Wanting

Bloomberg Businessweek April 27, 2020 pp26-28 Economics “The Data is Failing Us”. “Policymakers need real-time numbers to help guide the economic rescue effort”

What do we know?

Traditional metrics published periodically-weekly, monthly and quarterly are not fast enough to grasp the impact caused by the rapid COVID-19 business shutdown. And with websites crashing etc. and the potential to manipulate reports many are concerned about data quality.

So called “High Frequency” metrics based on real-time data are improving decision-making. “Economists and investors are scrutinizing everything from restaurant, hotel, and airline reservations (all down) to metrics of electricity usage (also down) and credit card spending (yup, down). Given the current situation these alternative data sources are getting more attention.


1) Initial jobless claims in the first four weeks were 3M, ~6.2M, ~6.1M and ~4.6M based on labor department data for a total of 22M since mid-March. Some of this aided by ADP LLC which covers about 20% of American Companies.

2) Mortgage applications % change from January is ~-40% based on the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Purchase Applications Index. This signals a decline forthcoming in housing.

3) Public transportation has dropped 80% based on data from Moovit Public Transit Index.

4) Restaurant Bookings YOY are down >100% based on data from OpenTable.

5) The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index is down more than 30%.

6) Active Oil Rigs are down more than 24%.

7) Steel Production is down 34%.

Using available-data the International Monetary Fund estimates an economic contraction of 3% but they note that “countries suffering severe outbreaks will lose roughly 8% of working days to stay-at-home orders and other efforts to contain the virus. The U.S. is estimating a loss of 20 working days for a total for 230 rather than 250 per year. It is estimated that about 30% of U.S. workers can operate at least temporarily from home.

With questions about data quality estimates of GDP growth “since April 10 range from -65% to 0.4%.”

From the crisis, it “should be a priority for governments….” to integrate these newer measures with traditional metrics like GDPNow Index and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s “Weekly Economic Index”.