Dr. Econ

Does a central bank have more information about the economy than the government, and, If so, what type of information?

December 2001

Yes, but not for long, and no. That’s my short answer to your question about what additional information the Fed has about the economy that is not available to others.

Information Generated by the Federal Reserve

The Federal Reserve System generates some unique information about the economy in the form of important economic statistics and key surveys of economic conditions. However, the Fed quickly publishes these indicators and survey results so that others also may use them to evaluate the economy’s performance.

In addition, Federal Reserve operations and structure provide the System with some unique insights into the health of the financial system and the economy. The Fed’s central banking responsibilities include supervising and regulating financial institutions1 and participating in the payments system2, two activities in which most government agencies are not directly involved. These responsibilities provide the Central Bank with firsthand knowledge of the conditions of financial institutions, as well as of the financial and payments systems.

The Fed’s structure-with its Board of Governors in Washington, D.C., and the 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks around the country-also provides a broad perspective on the condition of the economy, both nationally and regionally. The Board of Governors and each of the regional reserve banks have economic research staffs that conduct research and analysis on current regional, national, international, and financial system conditions and publish reports on their findings. The members of the Board of Governors and the Reserve Bank presidents-the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC)-may use these materials in their monetary policy decision-making process.

Other Sources of Economic Information

However, the Fed is only one of several entities that generates information on the performance of the national and regional economies. Important statistical series are prepared by a number of government agencies, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics (employment statistics), the Bureau of Economic Analysis (personal income), and the Census Bureau (housing). Private firms, including The Conference Board (Leading Economic Indicators), and academic centers, such as the University of Michigan (Consumer Sentiment), produce and publish popular economic indicators. Like the Fed, once these entities have collected and updated these series, they quickly release them to the public, where the Fed and others may use them to evaluate the condition of the economy.

Federal Reserve Statistics and Surveys

One important source of current information about the Fed’s monetary policy actions is the FOMC Statement. It is published shortly after each of the FOMC’s eight annual meetings.

Below is a partial list of some of the important economic indicator and statistical series generated and published by the Federal Reserve. Website addresses (as of February 2002) are included.

Finally, this list represents only a portion of the statistical releases and surveys that are prepared by the Federal Reserve and published for use by government agencies, businesses, academics, and the public. For additional information, please review the Board of Governors’ website.


Endnotes

1. The Fed is one of several Federal banking regulatory agencies. In the course of supervising, regulating, and examining banks that are members of the Federal Reserve System, as well as bank holding companies and financial holding companies, the Fed develops an important firsthand view of the health of the economy’s financial services sector.

2. The Federal Reserve develops important firsthand knowledge about the condition and workings of the U.S. payments system, because it is a key participant in check processing and electronic funds transfer systems.