5 economic indicators to watch

"From an economist's perspective, the consumer spending data is really a better measure of what consumers are buying. But on the other hand, (the personal income and outlays report) comes out two weeks later for the same period. It's just not as high profile an indicator," Hoyt says.

Though the retail sales report does reveal whether consumers are spending or whether that spending is dropping off, the report is subject to large revisions.

Consumer Price Index

The Consumer Price Index, or CPI, is released every month, usually two or three weeks after the month surveyed.

Economists focus on two CPI numbers. One is the overall CPI and the other is the core CPI, which is the overall number minus vital products such as oil and food products, which are excluded because of their price volatility.

"The Consumer Price Index is basically an attempt to measure consumer prices. It is a fixed basket of goods and, at least on a conceptual level, they go and measure the price of those goods and see how it changes," Hoyt says.

The CPI is used as a measure of inflation.

"If you're getting only a 5 percent increase in your pay in a year and because of inflation the prices of the goods that you buy went up 5 percent, you're really not making any more money," says Baumohl.

"Your purchasing power hasn't changed at all," he says.

New-home sales

The new-residential-sales report is released three or four weeks following the month surveyed.

New home sales have a bigger impact on GDP than do existing home sales, even though sales of new homes make up only 15 percent of the entire housing industry -- even less than that for 2008. New home sales accounted for less than 10 percent of all sales last year, according to data from the National Association of Realtors' existing home sales report and the new residential sales report released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

"There is a lot more spending (by business) that goes on ... when you construct a new home rather than selling an existing home, where you simply switch titles. We get much more of a bang for the buck," Baumohl says.


"The new-housing market makes up about 5 percent of the GDP. That doesn't sound like much, but we're talking about all of the components that go into building a home: copper, wood, gravel (and) workers, all that together makes up 5 percent," he says.

When you consider all the buying that people do before they move into their new homes -- furniture, appliances and electronics, for instance -- all of that spending activity increases the new-home market to about 25 percent of the GDP according to author Baumohl.

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