Economic indicators to watch in 2010

When it comes to the economy, there's no silver bullet. However, if you're trying to formulate a plan to bring your personal finances out of a recession, experts say you've got to do some number crunching.

Tracking certain economic indicators can help you decide the most opportune time to buy or sell a home, expect a raise, or how to distribute your 401(k). With hundreds of indicators fighting to garner your attention it can be confusing to know which ones mean the most to you.

"Each index and indicator has a specific purpose in our economy. But there are a few that [depending on the situation] the average consumer should track," said R. Mark Rogers, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Economic Indicators."

Follow the leader
Eduardo Ramos, certified investment manager of Freedom Advisory, LLC, recommends paying attention to "leading" indicators vs. lagging or coincidental ones.

Examples of these are:
  • Leading: The stock market, the new housing units sold , manufacturing new orders as they show where economy is headed.
  • Lagging: Unemployment, inventories to sales, prime rate charged by banks (based on how economy is faring now).
  • Coincidence (Occurring at this point in time): Number of employees on payroll, industrial production.
Ramos says following the "leaders" like the stock market, manufacturing new orders, etc., anticipate the future.

"John and Jane Doe would have a clearer picture of what their financial future might be if they did that," he said.

Is it time to sell your house?
The best home price index is the Case-Shiller Home Price Index produced by Standard & Poor's.

"It tracks changes in the home values," Rogers said. He adds that since you don't want a lot of competition on your street, or in your neighborhood, take a peek at the supply of existing homes on the market in the National Association of Realtors' existing home sales report.

Is it time for a raise?
Check out the Average Work Week. Stephen E. Hinton, managing director of Hinton Human Capital, LLC says this productivity indicator is in the Bureau of Labor Statistics database and can tell you that hiring is on the way.

"Once the average work week passes the 32 hour mark it means that factories and other industries are increasing production and will need to add staff to keep overtime within limits," Hinton said.

Rogers says another good bet is checking the Commerce Department's personal income report to find out how strong income growth is.

Stocks and Bonds. Should you buy, sell, or trade?
It's hard to not notice what the Dow Jones is up to. But Rogers says your time would be better spent looking at the bond market levels which historically have been at least as good an indicator of future economic expectations among financial professionals. But don't just focus on what's happening domestically.

"Keep track of data on whether those overseas are buying U.S. Government bonds; a good leading statistic to pay attention to, because if they stop, here comes "bad" inflation," Rogers said.

Gina Roberts-Grey is a freelance writer specializing in health, celebrity and consumer issues.
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