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Fed Mines Big Data for Real-Time Clues on Spending and Payrolls

  • Government agencies push to get early reads on economic trends
  • Card swipe data shows a spending collapse following hurricanes
Shopping Along Magazine Street As U.S. Retail Sales Top Forecasts
Photographer: Akasha Rabut/Bloomberg

Federal Reserve officials deployed an experimental new tool as they scrambled to assess the harm done by storms hammering the U.S. last year: a trove of big data that gave them real-time answers on spending they’d normally have to wait on for weeks.

Instead of guesswork and monthly retail sales readings, they used card swipe information from First Data Corp., a global payment technology company, to get a picture within three days of what hurricanes Harvey and Irma had done to the economies of Houston and Miami.