By the time the economic numbers come out, and then later when they're (inevitably) adjusted downwards, the signs have already been apparent, if anyone cared to look.
Everyone, I guess, has his own favorite early metric. We've all got a personal leading indicator: the number of people at the movies on a weekday; how crowded the Best Buy is on a Saturday afternoon; gas prices; that sort of thing.
My indicator is container shipping activity -- how many ships are being chartered suggests a lot about the coming economic news. From Bloomberg:
Plunging rates for chartering container vessels that carry sneakers, furniture and flat-screen TVs may signal a U.S. consumer slowdown and losses for shipping lines in what is traditionally their busiest time of the year.
Fees for hiring vessels have fallen 9.3 percent since the end of April, according to the Howe Robinson Container Index, which tracks charter rates for a range of vessels. Last year, the index surged 56 percent in the period, as lines added ships on demand from U.S. and European retailers restocking for the back-to-school and holiday shopping periods.
“The troubling part is that charter rates are falling in the peak season,” said Johnson Leung, head of regional transport at Jefferies Group Inc. in Hong Kong. “Sentiment among consumers and retailers isn’t very strong.”
Of course, I'm a container ship weirdo. I find them fascinating. I have "container shipping" as one of my "sparks" on Google+. So that's my indicator, and it's not pointing in a good direction. Anyone have an indicator that's pointing to good news?