Frequently Asked Questions & Answers

Why and when did The Conference Board become the source for the Business Cycle Indicators?

As part of its long-term strategic plan to improve the U.S. national accounts and respond to a changing economy, the Bureau of Economic Analysis of the Department of Commerce decided in 1995 to seek a private organization to produce and disseminate its monthly cyclical indicators-- including the leading economic indicators and the widely publicized composite leading index.

"Users of economic statistics agree that the foremost problems we face concern the way we measure output, prices, and the nation's capital stock," said Everett M. Ehrlich, Commerce Under Secretary for Economic Affairs on May 4, 1995, when the change was announced. "We need to redirect our resources away from statistical programs, such as the cyclical indicators, that no longer require a government role, and towards these most pressing statistical issues." [More information on the changes at BEA]

After a bidding process, The Conference Board was selected to become the custodian of the official composite leading, coincident, and lagging indexes. The Board also agreed to maintain the Business Cycle Indicators database, which has more than 250 economic series, and to start a related publication, also called Business Cycle Indicators. Although the BCI publication and maintaining the database were not requirements for being selected to produce the leading and other composite indexes, they do complement the data.  Both of these services are highly-valued by the public and The Board knew it could produce them most efficiently.

Founded in 1916, The Conference Board is a private, not-for-profit, non-advocacy organization. We are a worldwide research and business membership group, with nearly 2,000 companies in 60 countries as members. We produce a wide range of reports and periodicals, conduct numerous conferences and seminars, and organize peer group councils for senior executives that cover every aspect of business planning and management. Assuming the responsibility for computing the composite indexes and maintaining the BCI database supports our mission to improve the business enterprise system and to enhance the contribution of business to society.

The first independent release of the leading index by The Conference Board was on January 17, 1996. From October to December 1995, the composites were released jointly by The Conference Board and the BEA. The first issue of Business Cycle Indicators was published in February 1996.

What is the major difference between the two products: Leading Economic Indicators (LEI) and Business Cycle Indicators (BCI)?

LEI, which stands for Leading Economic Indicators, includes the leading index and the two other composites-- the coincident and lagging indexes. The LEI is released monthly, typically in the third week. This "economic news" release includes tables that list and document the underlying data, and index calculations for the latest six months.

BCI refers to both the complete electronic dataset files and the monthly hardcopy report called Business Cycle Indicators. The report highlights the leading index and indicators in the LEI release, but has many additional data series and numerous graphs of their long history. The BCI database online has the same data that are in the report; these electronic datafiles are the only way to get the "full history" of data for further analysis.

We recommend that users regularly pull data from the BCI files instead of trying to create their own record by splicing data from various hard-copy reports. Revisions to the historical data are common and they do not always follow a regular schedule. It is reasonable, however, to temporarily update your database with the information in the LEI release because it is available about 10 to 14 days before the BCI Report.

What is the difference between the products produced by Commerce and TCB?

The U.S Department of Commerce stopped gathering all of the information for the BCI database in late 1995. The Conference Board's now gathers the data from different sources, computes and reports the composite indexes, and puts everything together in an easy-to-use and understandable format. Nonetheless, the Department of Commerce remains a major supplier of data and many of the series are available on its Web site, known as STAT-USA (www.stat-usa.gov). At one time STAT-USA redistributed our monthly updates to the BCI database. The Conference Board Website is now the only official source for downloading the BCI data via the Internet.

What information is included in the U.S. BCI dataset?

More than 250 series are in the U.S. BCI dataset. They cover the most important aspects and sectors of the U.S. economy, such as:

  • employment and unemployment;
  • personal income and industrial production;
  • interest rates and money supply;
  • consumer price indexes; and
  • the composite leading, coincident, and lagging indexes and the underlying data series or indicators used to construct these three indexes.

The dataset was developed to provide those indicators that have proven to be most useful to economists and business analysts in determining current economic performance and predicting future direction. The BCI dataset offers the convenience of a wealth of economic information gathered together in a common format. A variable list is available.

How are the BCI data series accumulated or collected?

We contact numerous sources to get the data. More than half of the series come from official government sources such as the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Federal Reserve Board. Private sources include the National Association of Purchasing Managers, the Commodity Research Bureau, and The Conference Board's own Consumer Research Center. The BCI Handbook, published in January 2001, summarizes the series data, but the most complete explanations would come directly from each of the source agencies.

How are historical data handled, how far back do the data go?

Each BCI dataset (a set of downloaded electronic files) has a "full history" of data. The historical data series can go back as far as 1945, but most start in the late 1950s, a few start in the 1970s, and a handful in the mid-1980s.

Why are certain numbers or series not included in the data?

The BCI dataset evolved from work at the U.S. Commerce Department that started in the 1960s. Although it was designed and has been adjusted to be a comprehensive set of data on business cycle developments there is room for improving both its coverage of the economy and the quality of some indicators. These tasks are part of The Conference Board's research agenda.

What are lagging indicators?

In general, these series move up or down after the coincident series, e.g. income and employment, which are more commonly studied. In essence, they are the opposite of leading indicators. The composite lagging index is essentially a weighted average of the set of indicators that were classified as lagging by NBER economists in the 1970s. This set includes sales-to-inventory ratios, labor costs, and the prime rate. We are currently studying whether these series continue to be lagging indicators and whether the value of the lagging index can be improved.

What information is included in the U.S. BCI dataset?

Working Paper Series

The Conference Board Economics Program Working Paper (EPWP) Series publishes new research by our staff economists and affiliated researchers.

Click here to read

  • Human Capital
  • Back to Top