Puerto Rico behind on reporting economic data

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Puerto Rico’s release of economic data is overdue and lags behind the 50 states and its own past performance.

Puerto Rico's most recent economic activity index is for December and its most recent household survey employment data is for February. It hasn’t released retail sales data this year.

The 50 states have continued to collect and report household employment data, which the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics uses to compile state and national unemployment rates. So far data through April has been published.

"Unfortunately, policy decisions are being taken without real time and relevant data in Puerto Rico," said Heidi Calero, president of Puerto Rico-based H. Calero Consulting Group.

Center for a New Economy Policy Director Sergio Marxuach
Center for a New Economy Policy Director Sergio Marxuach noted the release of retail sales data has been delayed for an unusually long period.

When contacted by The Bond Buyer earlier this month, the Economic Development Bank for Puerto Rico, which compiles the economic activity index, didn't respond when asked when the next release could be expected.

Advantage Business Consulting President Vicente Feliciano said the constituent data for the index — establishment labor survey, electricity usage, concrete purchases, and gasoline purchases — are all available through March and the EDB could simply put the data into its algorithm to figure out the index.

Sergio Marxuach, policy director at Center for a New Economy, said, “The data on retail sales usually has a long lag but they should have published something for this year by now. I don’t know the reason for the delay, but my instinct is that it is probably due to a combination of incompetence, lack of adequate resources, and political motivations to delay the disclosure of bad news."

The U.S. Labor Department offered the following disclaimer in its release: “Due to the effects of the pandemic and efforts to contain the virus, Puerto Rico was not able to conduct normal data collection for its household survey in March or April 2020; therefore, its data were not published.”

Puerto Rico Oversight Board Spokesman Matthias Rieker said, “The Oversight Board has always said it wants more accurate and timely data.”

The April labor survey of non-agricultural establishments showed seasonally adjusted April employment in the commonwealth was down 10.9% from February, to 788,800 from 885,000. The April figure was down 10.1% from the April 2019 total.

The establishment survey, called Current Employment Statistics, excludes self-employed individuals as well as those employed in agriculture. The bureau’s household survey is called the Current Population Survey.

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