What’s the best way to track the economy with fast-moving omicron?
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We are expecting a lot of economic data releases in this shortened trading week: Consumer spending, existing home sales, revised GDP, and a lot more. Thing is, much of that data covers the recent past. And the omicron variant is changing things by the day. That’s why many economists have been paying close attention to “alternative” indicators to get a sense of where the economy is right now.
Alternative indicators include things like box office figures and subway turnstile numbers. It’s data that can help answer a big question:
“How far are we back to something that would be akin to pre-pandemic norms?” asked Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab, a Marketplace underwriter.
So far this month, she said the picture looks mixed. For instance, the number of seated diners at restaurants dropped earlier this month, according to the website OpenTable.
“Not markedly, not akin to what we saw in the spring of 2020, but a noticeable decline,” she said.
TSA traveler numbers and gasoline demand can reveal whether people feel comfortable going places, said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.
If those indicators start to fall, “that is a sign that you’re tending to see less service sector activity, and therefore less overall activity,” he said, adding that people have been spending more on services this year. But that could change, if they grow more cautious.
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