THIS WEEK, Feb. 8-12

The week ahead: Feb. 8-12 in business

Monday, February 8, 2010

This week will bring a fresh reading on retail sales, the first congressional testimony of the year by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, and the first release of a new and potentially useful economic indicator.


New commerce index

Ceridian is a giant company that offers corporate credit cards and other services. One of its business lines is to provide the fuel cards that large trucking firms use to allow drivers to fill up their big rigs. Ceridian has partnered with UCLA's Anderson School of Management to use data from that business to create an index of how much fuel consumption is occurring at the truck stops of America. It is, effectively, a near real-time measure of how many trucks are on the road and how far they're driving. Trucks account for so much of U.S. commerce that the index correlates closely with overall industrial production.

The Ceridian-UCLA Pulse of Commerce Index can be volatile month-to-month, so its creators urge people to pay attention to a three-month moving average. And it is not a perfect measure of how much commerce is occurring: For example, it does not account for activity in industries that rely on air transport or trains, and fluctuations in the price of fuel could cause firms to change their shipping procedures, such as by doubling up loads, which could cause the index to move in ways unconnected to how the economy is doing.

Nonetheless, the new index, being released for the first time Wednesday, should be a useful new tool for economy-watchers.

Also Wednesday, Bernanke will testify before the House Financial Services Committee on the Fed's exit strategy from its unconventional efforts to prop up the economy.


January retail sales

After a decent but unspectacular holiday sales season, how did retailers fare in January? Forecasters expect sales to have risen 0.3 percent, compared with a 0.3 percent decline in December.

-- Neil Irwin

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