Personal Finance: How to check the pulse of the economy

Christopher A. Hopkins

Financial geeks revel in collecting and interpreting mountains of economic data in an effort to divine future performance and gain an advantage in investment selection. Here's a dirty little secret: prognostication is a fool's errand, and few have consistently forecasted the future of financial markets. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Samuelson quipped that the stock market has predicted nine of the last five recessions, and numerous studies have shown that professional market forecasters are about as accurate as a random guess.

photo Christopher A. Hopkins

Still, for the non-professional, it is useful to have a basic grasp on where the economy stands at a moment in time and the general direction over the near term. Here are a few important but handy indicators that should help you filter out the noise and capture the essence of the current economic climate.