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Government shutdown puts economic reports on ice

October 01, 2013|By Don Lee
(Karen Bleier / AFP / Getty…)

WASHINGTON -- With signs of slowing in the important housing industry recently, home builders and others have been waiting for government updates on construction activity. They'll have to keep waiting, now that the lights are out in many federal offices.

In the first economic-data casualty of the government shutdown Tuesday, the Commerce Department did not release its monthly construction spending report. Spending had eased earlier in the summer as higher mortgage rates seemed to be crimping activity, but expectations were for a decent uptick in August.

Data on construction are among various industry and economic statistics that are used by companies to stay on top of trends and make decisions on investments and hiring. They also feed into government calculations on measuring the overall health of the American economy.

The most important monthly economic release is the national employment report -- and it looks increasingly unlikely that the data will be issued this Friday as scheduled. 

On its website Tuesday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said: "During the shutdown period BLS will not collect data, issue reports, or respond to public inquiries."

Previously, the BLS commissioner suggested there was some wiggle room to still issue the report, as the data for the September job-growth and unemployment figures had been collected earlier in the month and, with an OK from the Office of Management and Budget, a special exemption could be made.

Tuesday's statement on the Web casts doubt on that. And with most people at the Labor Department furloughed, public information officers couldn't be reached. The BLS website said it wouldn't be updating anything online either.

Analysts on average have been expecting better news on the job front, predicting payroll growth of about 184,000 last month (up from 169,000 in August and 104,000 in July) and expecting the  unemployment rate to remain at 7.3%.

Even if the jobs report is delayed, people will still be able to get an  updated read this week on the employment situation. The Labor Department's report on weekly jobless claims will come out as usual on Thursday morning. Officials say that's because the shutdown isn't causing a lapse in payments for unemployment benefits.

In addition, among the private sources for economic data is Automatic Data Processing, a payroll processor that puts out estimates of monthly job changes by broad industries and employer size. ADP's track record in predicting the BLS data has been mixed; it was very close to the mark in August, but way off in July from the government's revised data.

Still, the BLS monthly jobs report will be missed and could complicate things if the report is delayed for several weeks. The Federal Reserve is scheduled to hold its next policy meeting at the end of the month, and what's happening with employment and unemployment is central to the Fed's decision-making on its stimulus program.

"We don't want to be in the dark too long," said Ryan Sweet, an analyst at Moody's Analytics who follows the Fed as well as economic data releases.

Apart from the jobs report, he said, this week is relatively light on government economic data reports. But next week, there are some major releases previously scheduled, he said. Among them: international trade, retail sales and business inventories.

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