January 28, 2019
By Lucia Mutikani
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Officials are scrambling to restart data reports on the U.S. economy following a record-long government shutdown that blacked out key figures for the past five weeks, they said on Monday, but had no immediate timeline for a resumption.
Economists, investors and businesses count on data covering everything from new home sales to gross domestic product from a pair of Commerce Department agencies, the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Census Bureau, which were shuttered during the 35-day partial closure of the federal government.
BEA spokesman Thomas Dail said the bureau was consulting with the Census Bureau and other data suppliers to determine the availability of data used to produce economic indicators.
“Until we know more about when source data will be available, we cannot say anything definitive about release dates for specific economic indicators,” said Dail. “We will work through this as quickly as possible and provide information as soon as we can.”
The government shutdown, which ended on Friday, delayed the publication of several reports compiled by BEA and Census, and it was unclear whether some data due in the days ahead would come out as scheduled, including advance fourth-quarter GDP on Wednesday.
The advance December trade, wholesale and retail inventories, as well as construction, personal income and consumer spending data due this week, have also been affected. These reports, with December housing starts, durable goods, new home sales and retail sales – all delayed – are the main components of the GDP report.
November’s new home sales, advance trade, wholesale and retail inventories, as well as business inventories, factory orders and wholesale inventories, data have also been delayed.
According to Robert Shapiro, a former under secretary of commerce for economic affairs in the Clinton administration, it was highly unlikely that the GDP report would be published this week because of the lack of source data.
“They could put out something very preliminary and say it’s based on very partial data which will be updated,” said Shapiro, now a senior fellow at the Georgetown McDonough School of Business in Washington. “It’s more likely that they will put it off for a couple of weeks. The underlying data is just not there, they have not collected anything for December.”
One major report due this week should not be affected. The monthly nonfarm payrolls report will be issued as scheduled on Friday because it is compiled by another agency, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which did not lose funding during the shutdown.
The government reopened fully on Monday after President Donald Trump and Congress agreed on temporary funding – without the $5.7 billion he demanded toward building his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Lawmakers have until Feb. 15 to address border security to avoid another closure.
According to a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the longest government shutdown in the country’s history cost the economy about $11 billion.
The delayed November reports could be released soon as most of the information needed was most likely collected before Dec. 22, when about one-quarter of federal agencies were shuttered.
Based on what happened after the October 2013 government shutdown, the BEA and Census Bureau could publish the delayed December reports as multiple releases.
The data void is headache for businesses, including manufacturers, farmers, retailers, builders and others who rely on these reports in making decisions on capital spending, production and managing inventory, among other activities.
It has left in the dark government and private economists who count on the reports to assemble a full picture of the health of the U.S. economy, and financial market participants who need them to guide asset allocation decisions.
Officials at the Federal Reserve will gather on Tuesday for a two-day policy meeting without key information on the economy.
“No doubt the delayed release of economic indicators due to the partial federal government shutdown has restricted Fed officials’ ability to gauge underlying trends in economic growth and inflation with a high degree of confidence,” said Sam Bullard, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte, North Carolina.
(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Dan Grebler)