Government reverts to publishing trade data only once a month

Starting this month, the Commerce Department will end a two-year-old practice of releasing preliminary merchandise trade data before firming up the usual “flash estimate” for each month.

It decided to revert to the previous system of publishing only the “flash estimate” of monthly trade, after both sets of data showed significant swings over the past few months.

For example, while the more reliable “flash estimates” showed exports rose 1.6% and 4.8% year-on-year in August and September, respectively, preliminary data had suggested a contraction of 1.1% and 3.5% for these months. In July, the flash estimate evoked an increase of 23.5%, against that of 16.8% in the preliminary data. Even the import data has undergone changes, as have the trade deficit estimates.

“The idea is to avoid sending mixed signals about trade performance,” an official said.

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Preliminary estimates, released the first week of a month, are usually based on trade data collected from EDI (electronic data interchange) ports. Flash estimates, however, are released around the 15th of each month. These are based on EDI and non-EDI port data, hence the differences between the two data sets. Even quick estimates are then updated once more trade data arrives.

Government officials have often said that the backlog in collecting data from non-EDI ports and some special economic zones is to blame for the variations.

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