Flood of U.S. economic data set to wash up on Wall Street

Reuters

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A wave of U.S. economic data is set to hit financial markets starting next week after a last-minute budget deal re-opened the federal government on Thursday.

The Labor Department said it would release its employment report for September on Tuesday as it provided a fresh schedule for some data that had been delayed by the 16-day partial government shutdown.

The report originally was scheduled for release on October 4.

The payrolls tally, which includes the nation's unemployment rate, regularly sets the tone for global financial markets keen for a reading on the health of the world's largest economy.

Among other data the department rescheduled was the consumer price index for September, which will now be released on October 30, and the producer price index for September, now due on October 29.

The Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis, which compiles the gross domestic product and retail sales reports, among others, will publish a revised data calendar as soon as possible, a spokeswoman said.

The shutdown delayed the release of about a dozen economic reports. Six other reports covering the month of September that had been scheduled for release over the next couple of weeks will probably be delayed as well.

October's employment report, previously due for release on November 1, was pushed back to the following week, the Labor Department said.

While delays in publishing the data likely inconvenienced financial market players, there is a silver lining, especially for retail sales and nonfarm payrolls data for which respondents do not always complete the government surveys on time.

"The releases may even be of better quality," said Laura Rosner, a U.S. economist at BNP Paribas in New York, noting that delays in releasing the retail sales report during a government shutdown in 1995 and 1996 had allowed for the inclusion of late responses from retailers.

"The fact that it was delayed meant that more late responses were able to be included, so the data was more complete than had it been published earlier in the month."

Keith Hall, a former commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Labor Department's main statistical arm, said only about 70 percent of companies surveyed by the BLS for the nonfarm payrolls count submit their responses on time.

OCTOBER DATA QUALITY IN FOCUS

But the statistical agencies will need to tackle trickier questions about how to handle the backlog without jeopardizing the quality of reports they would normally be working on now.

Concerns are already being raised that the shutdown may compromise the quality of consumer inflation data and the nation's unemployment rate for October.

The inflation report is based on prices collected through the month and relies on visits to shops and supermarkets. But the BLS will not have prices for at least the first half of the month given the shutdown.

Even if field visits resumed on Thursday, they would still not have a sufficient sample to compile a comprehensive report.

Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland warned that the shutdown could have an impact on the accuracy of the monthly consumer price index estimates until next May.

"Since the CPI price collection relies upon field staff visiting shops, some of the October data will never be collected," said Randal Verbrugge, a senior research economist at the Cleveland Fed. "As a result, the November CPI release, which is based upon October data, will have a much bigger standard error due to the smaller sample."

Given that not all prices are collected every month, the error will not be quickly reversed.

"In fact, these repercussions do not end until May of 2014," said Verbrugge. "However, year-over-year inflation estimates will continue to be quite reliable."

Other economists said the October inflation report could be scrapped altogether, although the Labor Department said it planned to release the data next month.

There is also a cloud over October's unemployment rate. The household survey from which the jobless rate is derived was supposed to have been carried out last week, when the government was still shut.

Unlike the payrolls data, which is based on a survey of employers, staff from the Census Bureau make calls to households to come up with the data to construct the unemployment rate.

According to Hall, who is now a senior scholar at Mercatus Center at George Mason University, the staff could still make the calls, as they did in November 1995. He cautioned, however, that the response rate might be low, although he did not think there would be a significant impact on the data.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Tim Ahmann, Leslie Gevirtz and Ken Wills)

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