Spinning Economic Numbers

It’s August 16, 2011 and one of my favorite economic indicators is being released today. The figure is called capacity utilization and is the percentage of industry that is being utilized vs. sitting idle waiting on workers, capital, orders, repair, etc. If you ask me, it is a great indicator of where the economy is truly headed. It is also one of the more esoteric indicators, so I have to look for it. I also have an uncanny nose for bullshit. Let me explain.

I was thankfully forced to read a book called 1984 by George Orwell in high school in 1983. This was an era before cell phones, personal computers, GPS or any of the other niceties that we enjoy/tolerate today. I thought it impossible that there would be an illuminated box that would sit on a table and spy on my every move, reporting to the central government nicknamed “Big Brother.” The news agencies were all state run (in the book) and the people saw the news that the government wanted them to see, which usualy had something to do with the geo-political sentiments for that time. At least that is the way it was in the book, right? Team that up with my service in the US Atlantic Submarine Fleet in the late 80’s and I have an almost immediate distrust for what people call “the news.”

When I was a broker (by NASD license alone), I read the Investor’s Business Daily and watched CNBC for economic news. These were two places that the news was almost all eceonomic. In many cases, if you didn’t have a background in economics (or at least know a little something about it), the news from these sources would not make any sense to you.

I now rely on CNBC.com and in all fairness to one of my favorite channels, I haven’t had the luxury of watching CNBC in a few years now. I would hope that their televised reporting has less to do with politics and more to do with economics.

As I am looking for my favorite indicator, here is what I see on the CNBC.com homepage and why it stands out to me:

“US Housing Starts Fall Less Than Expected in July”- In a perfect world, this is not-so-good economic news. Here they are trying to make it sound completely peachy. The news is not-so-good.

“Is Texas Job Boom Gov. Perry’s Doing- Or Just Luck”- As a trader, broker, investor or someone else involved int he economic machinery of today, why do I care about this obvious political jab from a formerly conservative news source?

“Stocks Fall Amid Global Economic Fears”- What about domestic economic fears? We have high unemployment, no growth and stifling government intervention in small business. By the way, less than 1.4% growth in GDP for two straight quarters is, for all practical purposes, no growth. Also, it is an economic fact, not an opinion, that small business creates the jobs, not government. We don’t have any fears here? Try again!

Today, I had to sift through some BS and eventually go to another site to get the number I wanted. The answer is 77.5%, up from 76.7%. This is better economic news, all things considered. It does indicate that a surge in industrial production took place in July. It is better news, but not the indication that we are heading for an optimal 3.5% growth in GDP anytime soon.

Watch the “news” with care. There’s a LOT of bullshit out there.

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Michael Neely

My name is Michael Neely and I am an entrepreneur, blogger, FOREX trader, coin collector and businessman. I have also been known as a waiter, bartender, Series Three (Commodities and Currencies Options and Futures). I currently live in New England with my beautiful fiancée, Patsy and Pip, our Jack Russell terrier.

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