Economic indicator

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Economic indicators are indicators , the economic data and sizes together in relationship set and the assessment of the macroeconomic situation serve.


Like any key figure in general, economic indicators should also measure a reproducible quantity, a repetitive state or process that is of economic importance. Key figures relate to quantitatively measurable, important economic facts that are explained, illustrated and reproduced in concentrated form with the help of the key figures. They condense the data material that arises in an economy and are used to identify problems, identify strengths and weaknesses , obtain information , control ( target / actual comparison ), document and / or coordinate important facts and relationships. In contrast to business key figures , economic key figures have a higher degree of aggregation , which, for example, does not just look at a single company , but rather summarizes the company data of all companies as a "company sector".

In the economy with its complex issues , the economic subjects need measurement parameters with the help of which companies , media , experts , financial analysts and laypeople can make an assessment of economic developments. The central banks , governments and business associations also use these economic indicators, which are calculated by the Federal Statistical Office or economic research institutes. Economic indicators give the interested party a quick overview of the economic development. They are collected at regular intervals and published by the mass media (such as the inflation rate or the unemployment rate in particular ) so that they are perceived not only by experts but also by lay people. By making a comparison with previous months or years, developments can be tracked or trends can be identified. The success or failure of economic policy is judged on the basis of key data on the overall economy .


In 1881, the French statistician Alfred de Foville was the first to succeed in illustrating the connection between several economic indicators. The Italian statistician Rodolfo Benini compiled a total of 51 economic indicators from 1881 onwards, and in 1882 the Austrian Richard Sorer managed to create 39 indicators. The first well-known economic indicator was the Harvard barometer of 1919, which it in turn to the specially-created journal Review of Economic Statistics was published. However, he did not succeed in predicting the Great Depression of 1929 , because it showed an upswing up to September 1929 , although from June 1929 the real economic industrial development in the USA was declining.

The Federal Statistical Office has had the goal since 1950 of drawing a statistical overall picture of the economic structure and the economic process. It was seen as the most important task to provide the basic data for the short-term and long-term economic observation, because all the key figures for the ongoing economic observation serve to describe the economy. Since August 1972 the Federal Statistical Office has published “Indicators for Economic Development - Time Series with Seasonal Adjustment”. The Bundesbank used the central bank money stock until 1987 , and since then has used the money stock in its definition M3. The European Central Bank followed in 1994 with their "two-pillar strategy" on the one hand the real economy indicators (eg. As potential output , wages) and also longer-term in the monetary analysis, monetary indicators (eg. As the broad monetary aggregate M3).


Key figures have the task of filtering out the essentials from the flood of economic data. For optimal decisions, decision-makers need an instrument that provides them with clear and concentrated information on the most important economic issues. Economic indicators must therefore fulfill several tasks at the same time in order to be useful for decisions:

  • Representativeness : The code must be in a state a certain typical economic aspect of play and thus the statement about a population permit;
  • Meaningfulness : The key figure must contain an economically meaningful statement about facts and processes;
  • Goal orientation : The key figure must be able to serve a specific decision goal ;
  • Profitability : key figures must be economical and therefore be determinable without any special effort;
  • Reversibility : Key figures must be reversible, i.e. they must also be able to reflect the opposite relationship;
  • Propensity for purpose : KPIs must be suitable for solving a given task.

The key figures are used for comparison over time within a country or for an international comparison .


Depending on the number of arithmetic operations , from a methodological and statistical point of view, a rough distinction is made between absolute and relative key figures :

All economic key figures can be assigned to one of these key figure types. Their calculation basis is partially inconsistent internationally and makes a comparison difficult, for example with the unemployment rate. Eurostat has brought about a standardization for the EU member states .


A few economic indicators also have indicator properties, such as incoming orders, because as early indicators they show future changes in gross domestic product. Other key figures, on the other hand, are unsuitable as indicators (such as the inflation rate , unemployment rate , savings rate or consumption rate ) because they only describe an economic current state and enable past comparisons.

Meaning, criticism and possible errors

Economic indicators serve as a decision-making basis for economic policy and for economic subjects ( companies , private households , the state and abroad ). They inform the public about general economic conditions and framework conditions as well as the economic development within a country and also enable an international comparison. The success or failure of an economic policy is assessed on the basis of these key data . They also serve the rating agencies as a basis for drawing up ratings for country risks . The agencies also use the most suitable measure for assessing material prosperity , real gross domestic product per capita , because it is adjusted for price and population developments.

The importance of economic indicators is so great that some indicators are mentioned in laws or contracts. The Stability Act, which came into force in Germany in June 1967, requires the simultaneous fulfillment of the - mutually conflicting - goals of price level stability , steady and appropriate economic growth , high employment and external balance ( magic square ). Since November 1993, the EU convergence criteria have stipulated that all EU member states must have an inflation rate of no more than 1.5 percentage points above that of the three most stable member states, the national debt must not exceed 60% of the gross domestic product and the annual budget deficit 3%. of the gross domestic product ( Art. 126 TFEU ). These limit values ​​result from certain model considerations on the relationships between economic growth, deficit ratio, interest rates and debt level, which were theoretically presented in general in 1944 by Evsey D. Domar .

The general criticism of a one-sided focus and misinterpretation that applies to key figures also applies to economic key figures. The danger of one-sided focus can be countered by the simultaneous assessment of several complementary key figures, embedded in a key figure hierarchy. Misinterpretations of key figures can be avoided if the collection and calculation bases for the key figures are identical and transparent. The assessment of key figures presupposes that the financial analyst is aware of the limits of their informative value. It should not be overlooked that, because of their mathematical basis, key figures are mostly static and can possibly be misleading. Past-related key figures only permit limited statements about the present and cannot be used for forecasting future developments.

Individual evidence

  1. Peter R. Preißler, Business Key Figures , 2008, p. 3
  2. Manfred Weber, quick introduction key figures , 2006, p. 9
  3. Alfred de Foville, Études économiques et statistiques sur la propriété foncière: Le morcellemant , 1885, pp. 1 ff.
  4. Gerhard Fürst, Economic Indicators , 1975, p. 17
  5. Karl-Willi Schlemmer, article key figures , in: Wolfgang Lück, Lexikon der Betriebswirtschaft , 1983, p. 623 ff.
  6. Peter R. Preißler, Business Key Figures , 2008, p. 12
  7. Horst Degen / Peter Lorscheid, Statistics Textbook , 2002, p. 99 ff.
  8. Kurt Scharnbacher, Statistics in Operation , 1991, p. 88 ff.
  9. ^ Karl-Willi Schlemmer, article key figures , in: Wolfgang Lück, Lexikon der Betriebswirtschaft , 1983, p. 625
  10. Manfred Weber, quick introduction key figures , 2006, p. 9
  11. ^ Beat Hotz-Hart / Patrick Dümmler / Daniel Schmuki, Volkswirtschaft der Schweiz , 1996, p. 359
  12. Evsey D. Domar, “The Burden of Debt and National Income”, in: American Economic Review 34, pp. 798-827