Understand what particular aspect of the economy is being revealed in the data. For example, you should know which indicators measure the growth of the economy (GDP) vs. those that measure inflation (PPI, CPI) or employment (non-farm payrolls). After you follow the data for a while, you’ll become very familiar with the nuances of each economic indicator and what part of the economy they are measuring.
Not all economic indicators are created equal. Well, they might’ve been created with equal importance but along the way, some have acquired much greater potential to move the markets than others. Market participants will place higher regard on one stat vs. another depending on the state of the economy.
Know which indicators the markets are keying on. For example, if prices (inflation) are not a crucial issue for a particular country, inflation data will probably not be as keenly anticipated or reacted to by the markets. On the other hand, if economic growth is a vexing problem, changes in employment data or GDP will be eagerly anticipated and could precipitate tremendous volatility following their release.
The data itself is not as important as whether or not it falls within market expectations. Besides knowing when all the data will hit the wires, it is vitally important that you know what economists and other market pundits are forecasting for each indicator. For example, knowing the economic consequences of an unexpected monthly rise of 0.3% in the producer price index (PPI) is not nearly as vital to your short-term trading decisions as it is to know that this month the market was looking for PPI to fall by 0.1%. As mentioned, you should know that PPI measures prices and that an unexpected rise could be a sign of inflation. But analyzing the longer-term ramifications of this unexpected monthly rise in prices can wait until after you’ve taken advantage of the trading opportunities presented by the data. Once again, market expectations for all economic releases are published on various sources on the Web and you should post these expectations on your calendar along with the release date of the indicator.
Don’t get caught up in the headlines. Part of getting a handle on what the market is forecasting for various economic indicators is knowing the key aspects of each indicator. While your macroeconomics professor might have drilled the significance of the unemployment rate into your head, even junior traders can tell you that the headline figure is for amateurs and that the most closely watched detail in the payroll data is the non-farm payrolls figure. Other economic indicators are similar in that the headline figure is not nearly as closely watched as the finer points of the data. PPI for example, measures changes in producer prices. But the stat most closely watched by the markets is PPI, ex-food and energy. Traders know that the food and energy component of the data is much too volatile and subject to revisions on a month-to-month basis to provide an accurate reading on the changes in producer prices.
Speaking of revisions, don’t be too quick to pull that trigger should a particular economic indicator fall outside of market expectations. Contained in each new economic indicator released to the public are revisions to previously released data. For example, if durable goods should rise by 0.5% in the current month, while the market is anticipating them to fall, the unexpected rise could be the result of a downward revision to the prior month. Look at revisions to older data because in this case, the previous month’s durable goods figure might’ve been originally reported as a rise of 0.5% but now, along with the new figures, is being revised lower to say a rise of only 0.1% Therefore, the unexpected rise in the current month is likely the result of a downward revision to the previous month’s data.
Don’t forget that there are two sides to a trade in the foreign exchange market. So, while you might have a great handle on the complete package of economic indicators published in the United States or Europe, most other countries also publish similar economic data. The important thing to remember here is that not all countries are as efficient as the G7 in releasing this information. Once again, if you are going to trade the currency of a particular country, you need to find out the particulars about their economic indicators. As mentioned above, not all of these indicators carry the same weight in the markets and not all of them are as accurate as others. Do your homework and you won’t be caught off guard.