U.S. government agencies and departments generate a veritable flood of data. Much of it could be meaningful for fundamental investment performance analysis, if you know where to look. This guide is intended to help you frame your research objectives.
Diversified industry performance and benchmarking data
The federal government’s principal collector of company performance information for publication is the United States Department of Commerce. Data are published mostly by one of two Commerce Department units, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), and the Census Bureau. Here are some of the principal Commerce data venues:
- The U.S. Economic Accounts [http://www.bea.gov/index.htm] are the underlying data sources for the company financial data used to calculate the size of the U.S. economy (GDP). For research purposes, the Bureau of Economic Analysis breaks down this information, first into three broad economic sectors (durable goods manufacturing, nondurable goods manufacturing, and services) and then into individual industries. BEA publishes a variety of industry financial metrics that can be used to benchmark individual company performance and assess business potential. These include income, expenses, profits, and value added. The BEA also provides indicators that can be used to assess any price-level changes that might occur at the same level of industry detail.
- The Survey of Current Business [http://www.bea.gov/scb/index.htm] is a monthly BEA publication that offers expert analysis of key research findings and data trends. One recent article offered data on the GDP in each of the nation’s 366 metropolitan areas. Another quantified the pace of technological progress in the microprocessor industry over the past quarter century.
- The Economic Indicators page of the U.S. Census Bureau [http://www.census.gov/cgi-bin/briefroom/BriefRm] publishes detailed information on many commonly cited indicators, including retail sales, construction activity, housing vacancies, and home ownership. Data on most indicators goes back at least 20 years, some 50 years or more.
- The County Business Patterns page [http://www.census.gov/econ/cbp/] offers highly localized views of economic data, most notably by state, metropolitan area, and ZIP code.
- • Due later in 2013 is the Economic Census [http://www.census.gov/econ/census/index.html], a detailed survey of business conducted every five years by the Census Bureau.
Transportation industry data
The principal source of transportation industry-focused data and statistics is TranStats [http://www.transtats.bts.gov/homepage.asp], which is maintained by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). This site provides both company-specific and industry-aggregated data views for transportation-related industries.
- Airline data includes operating statistics such as passenger loads, market shares (in the aggregate, as well as by airport and by city pair), on-time performance, baggage fees, and the capacity to serve selected routes between cities. TranStats reports also detail individual airline operating costs and revenues and provide many key industry and company revenue ratios and benchmarks.
- Railroad data includes financial reports, domestic and cross-border traffic volumes, accident studies, and safety statistics.
- Trucking data (much of which might be compiled by regulatory units of the DOT) includes volume, performance measurements, cost and cost-benefit analyses, and highway statistics.
Healthcare sector data
Health care is one of the largest sectors in the U.S. economy. It is also a significant cost factor for both companies and consumers. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality [http://www.ahrq.gov/research/index.html], a unit of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is a major collector and publisher of financial data relating to health care. Its ongoing original research includes the “Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project,” which is the largest collection of inpatient hospital care statistics in the United States, and the “Medical Expenditure Panel Survey,” which collects data from households, care providers, and insurers.
Commercial bank data
The Federal Reserve Board and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) are two principal sources of financial data about commercial banks. The Fed’s reports [http://www.federalreserve.gov/econresdata/statisticsdata.htm] offer top-level balance sheet and income statement data covering all domestically chartered insured commercial banks that have consolidated assets of $300 million or more. The OCC—commercial banking’s primary business regulator—issues a quarterly statistical profile of bank derivatives trading activities [http://www.occ.gov/topics/capital-markets/financial-markets/trading/derivatives/derivatives-quarterly-report.html].
Consumers’ financial behavior
The most detailed, ongoing analysis of consumers’ household finances is the Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) [http://www.federalreserve.gov/econresdata/scf/scfindex.htm]. SCF includes information on families’ balance sheets, pensions, income, and demographic characteristics.
Official aggregation sites and compilations
FedStats [http://www.fedstats.gov/] is the federal government’s master listing of official data and statistical sources. To facilitate browsing, it has topic listings, source listings, agency listings, and program/subject area listings. It also offers full site search capabilities.
FRED® [http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/] is the online database query and archiving service of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. FRED provides current and historical data for more than 61,000 different economic and financial indicators. Many of its records include data reaching back to the origin of the indicator, some of which have been compiled continuously since the early 20th century.
A note about data definitions
There are two different systems for categorizing companies. GICS—the Global Industry Classification Standard—was developed jointly by Standard & Poor’s and Morgan Stanley Capital International. It is used to classify stocks in both companies’ market indexes. NAICS—the North American Industry Classification System—was created by government statistical organizations in the United States, Canada, and Mexico for categorizing companies in official economic reports. NAICS codes are based on the product or service focus of the company, Moreover, each NAICS user does its own categorization, so which company may be assigned to which NAICS group might vary from one data source to another. GICS codes, in contrast, are assigned by the system’s overseers and applied uniformly in all applications. As a result, any benchmark based on NAICS codes should be considered only as an approximation for a universe of GICS-classified investments.