Statistics matter

Statistics, used correctly, can tell you a story.  They can tell you about our economy, where we are now, where we have been and where we are headed.  They can be a powerful forecasting tool that can help individuals, businesses and governments plan ahead.  It’s really too bad we’re so lacking in good raw data to draw a much better picture of where we are today.

Consider the container docks as an example.  Peter Aldrich, general manager of Stevedoring Services Ltd, correctly described our docks as the “pulse of the economy”.  A large portion of what is shipped into the island goes through our docks and as such, if measured correctly one can use such statistics to measure the strength of our economy.  Mr. Aldrich claims that his company knew back in 2008 that we were hitting a recession as there was a downward trend in imported containers beginning in November 2008.  His company took steps to prepare for a downturn because of this trend but since his statistics were not publically available, others were not so fortunate.  Imagine the benefit of having such statistics made public, similarly consider what benefit there would be if regular (monthly) and verbose real estate, work permit and employment statistics were made available.  We’d have a far greater grasp of the various indicators that drive our economy.  Sadly, we lack such details.

None the less, we can make do with what little statistics we do have.  Recent updates to the retail spending index suggest that we’re not yet out of our recession, though our downward trend appears to have halted for the time being.  Why does retail spending matter?  It tells us about spending trends in Bermuda.  More spending means more earnings and the potential for more jobs.  The trend can tell us something about how people feel about spending money as well.

So let’s take a look at overall spending trends.  Back in October we used prior year’s Retail Sales trends to create projections for the rest of the year.

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So far, it seems overall retail sales are following our projected trend.

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This is a reasonable sign.  Although sales remain nearer to 2005 levels, they don’t appear to be significantly deviating from our projected trend, suggesting that we’re not seeing continued declines in sales levels at this time.  It’ll be interesting to see how the November and December numbers fit into this picture as the Christmas season is usually a boom time for retail and will give us a good idea of what we have to look forward to for 2011.

Larger questions to be asked are the differences between overseas and local spending and whether Bermudians are buying Bermuda.  Although sales don’t appear to be declining overall at the moment, they may still be declining locally and that doesn’t mean great things for retail jobs.

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