CFNAI: The Most Important & Overlooked Economic Number

The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) is arguably one of the most important and overlooked economic indicators. Each month, economists, the media, and investors pour over various mainstream economic indicators, from GDP to employment and inflation, to determine what markets will likely do next.

While economic numbers like GDP or the monthly non-farm payroll report typically garner the headlines, the most crucial statistic, in my opinion, is the CFNAI. Investors and the press mostly ignore it, but the CFNAI is a composite index of 85 sub-components, giving a broad overview of overall economic activity in the U.S.

Since the beginning of this year, the markets ran up sharply over into July as the Federal Reserve again intervened in the markets to bail out regional banks. Then, even as the market pulled back this summer, economic growth accelerated in the 3rd quarter, according to the headlines, which should translate into a resurgence of corporate earnings. However, if recent CFNAI readings are any indication, investors may want to alter their growth assumptions heading into next year.

While most economic data points are backward-looking statistics, like GDP, the CFNAI is a forward-looking metric that indicates how the economy will likely look in the coming months.

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