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Nowcasting GDP: Electronic Payments, Data Vintages and the Timing of Data Releases

We describe and assess the usefulness of a newly-constructed database of electronic payments, comprised of debit and credit card transactions as well cheques that clear through the banking system, as indicators of current GDP growth. Apart from capturing a broad range of spending activity, these variables are available on a very timely basis, thereby making them suitable candidate indicators. Controlling both for the release dates of various variables and the vintage of GDP available to analysts at the time a nowcast is produced, we generate nowcasts of GDP growth for a given quarter over a span of five months, which is the period over which interest in nowcasts would exist. We find that nowcast errors fall by about 60 per cent between the first and final nowcast. Evidence on the value of the additional payments variables is mixed, however; the point estimates suggest reductions in forecast loss at some nowcast horizons, but with considerable variability.
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