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Flood of U.S. economic data set to wash up on Wall Street

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A wave of U.S. economic data is set to hit financial markets as early as next week after a last-minute budget deal re-opened the federal government on Thursday.

Reports that were within just a few days of release when the government shut on October 1, including the closely watched employment report for September, could be published within days.

"They had pretty much collected all the data they were going to collect. There is probably no reason why they wouldn't be able to release the (employment) data next Friday," said Keith Hall, a former commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Labor Department's main statistical arm.

A spokeswoman for the department, which also handles data on inflation, productivity and employment costs, said it had no reports scheduled for publishing just yet.

The Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis, which compiles the gross domestic product and retail sales reports, among others, will publish a revised data calendar in the next couple of days, a spokesman said.

The 16-day government shutdown delayed the release of about a dozen economic reports. Six other reports covering the month of September that had been scheduled for release over the next couple of weeks will probably be delayed as well.

October's employment report, due for release on November 1, could be pushed back to the following week, economists said.

While delays in publishing the data likely inconvenienced financial market players, there is a silver lining, especially for retail sales and nonfarm payrolls data where respondents do not always complete the government surveys on time.

"The releases may even be of better quality," said Laura Rosner, a U.S. economist at BNP Paribas in New York, noting that delays in releasing the retail sales report during a government shutdown in 1995 and 1996 had allowed for the inclusion of late responses from retailers.

"The fact that it was delayed meant that more late responses were able to be included, so the data was more complete than had it been published earlier in the month."

Hall, who is now a senior scholar at Mercatus Center at George Mason University, said only about 70 percent of companies surveyed by the BLS for the nonfarm payrolls count submit their responses on time.

OCTOBER DATA QUALITY IN FOCUS

But the statistical agencies will need to tackle trickier questions about how to handle the backlog without jeopardizing the quality of reports they would normally be working on now.

Concerns are already being raised that the shutdown may compromise the quality of consumer inflation data and the nation's unemployment rate for October.

The inflation report is based on prices collected through the month and relies on visits to shops and supermarkets. But the BLS will not have prices for at least the first half of the month given the shutdown.

Even if field visits resumed on Thursday, they would still not have enough sample to compile a comprehensive report.

Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland warned that the shutdown could impact on the accuracy of the monthly consumer price index estimates until next May.

"Since the CPI price collection relies upon field staff visiting shops, some of the October data will never be collected," said Randal Verbrugge, a senior research economist at the Cleveland Fed. "As a result, the November CPI release, which is based upon October data, will have a much bigger standard error due to the smaller sample."

Given that not all prices are collected every month, the error will not be quickly reversed.

"In fact, these repercussions do not end until May of 2014," said Verbrugge. "However, year-over-year inflation estimates will continue to be quite reliable."

Other economists said the October inflation report could be scrapped altogether.

There is also a cloud over October's unemployment rate. The household survey from which the jobless rate is derived was supposed to have been carried out last week, when the government was still shut.

Unlike the payrolls data, which is based on a survey of employers, staff from the Census Bureau make calls to households to come up with the data to construct the unemployment rate.

According to Hall, the staff could still make the calls, as they did in November 1995. He cautioned, however, that the response rate might be low, although he did not think there would be a significant impact on the data.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Leslie Gevirtz)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/131017/flood-us-economic-data-set-wash-wall-street