Table: GDP Stand-Ins

The quarterly GDP report is the most comprehensive look at the economy, but it is also one of the last reports, coming out a month after the end of the quarter. Here are some numbers that economists use to get a more up-to-date reading on business activity:

-- The Conference Board's index of coincident indicators is designed to track the monthly movements of the economy. It includes payrolls, real personal income, industrial production, and business sales.

-- The Labor Dept.'s monthly index of aggregate hours worked measures how much time employees spend on the job. Changes in the hours-worked index typically foreshadow growth in real GDP. Lately, however, the big gains in productivity have lessened the index's value as a GDP proxy.

-- Alternatively, some economists multiply the industrial production index times the consumer price index to get a proxy for nominal GDP. Investors can find this information valuable because, in the past 10 years, the growth in nominal GDP has done a good job in tracking corporate profit growth.

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