Thursday, 3 May 2012

Rail Time Indicators Report

Markets are blitzed with such a dizzying array of financial and economic statistics, it can be difficult to make sense of it all, particularly for inexperienced investors.  Some statistics, such as jobless claims and railroad loadings, are a weekly affair.  Several are issued quarterly, most notably GDP.  Many are delivered to information-saturated investors each month, including housing starts and industrial production. 
As if the sheer volume wasn't enough, there are added complications.  For example, multiple sources offering data on the same variable, such as payroll numbers, which are issued both by payment processor ADP, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  In this case, the two numbers track each other fairly closely over time, but often differ materially month-to-month.  And the accuracy of some figures isn't always rock solid, sometimes because they're revised later, other times because they're seasonally adjusted.  Some figures, even when sole-sourced and accurate, are not intuitive, such as some of the scale-based confidence indicators.
What to do?  A particularly useful resource is the Rail Time Indicators report, produced monthly by the Association of American Railroads.  About 40 pages in a PDF file, each issue devotes the first half or so to railroad specific data that's been sliced and diced in different ways.  Warren Buffett regards railroad-based economic statistics as invaluable, since a broad array of goods are shipped by rail.  The second half of each report covers perhaps a dozen important indicators.  The discussion of each indicator includes who releases in and when; a clear, concise explanation of what it is and why it's important; the latest figures, often accompanied by a graph, and added context that includes past figures; and links pointing to additional resources.
It doesn't touch on every last figure - who could? - but it covers many of the "market movers" that are obsessed over by the media and investors alike.  This free resource is an excellent way to find many indicators in one place, as well as offering an explanation about why they matter.  Visit the AAR website for the report, or sign up to have it delivered automatically to your inbox.

Another excellent source of macroeconomic information is Calculated Risk.
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