Excel Bar Charts with Economic Indicators

These Excel column charts of employment, business lending, and freight shipments show mixed signals about the current health of the US economy.

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These Excel column charts of employment, business lending, and freight shipments show mixed signals about the current health of the US economy.The Excel figure below shows three indicators of the US economy. Two show economic improvements and one doesn’t.

The Excel Perspective

Using column charts rather than line charts makes it much easier to compare different periods. But, if I wanted to look only at trends, I would have used line charts.

I used Power Query to return the data from FRED, the Federal Reserve Economic Database. So by refreshing Power Query, I can update the figure automatically.

Because all three figures plot 13 points, I set up each chart to show a label every three periods. And because 3 divided into 13 equals 4 with a remainder of one, the chart shows 4 labels plus 1 more.

These Excel column charts of employment, business lending, and freight shipments show mixed signals about the current health of the US economy.

The Management Perspective

Notice how easy these charts are to read. At a glance, you know what each chart is telling you. You might not know what Cass Freight is, but you can see that it’s not giving us good news.

In contrast, many dashboards show a wide variety of charts that are difficult to browse—taking up managers’ time.

The Economic Perspective

Figure 1 measures the number of new unemployment claims during the past week as a percentage of the civilian labor force. And the labor force is defined as the number of people working plus the number of people unemployed.

As you can see, the number of claims has been falling, but at a falling rate.

Figure 2 shows the annual growth percentage in commercial and industrial loans, for all commercial banks.

As you can see, as soon as the economy started to shut down, businesses started to borrow what they could. But now, the growth rate of business loans is falling.

Figure 3 shows the percentage growth in the Cass Freight Index for shipments. The index is a measure of the US freight market. Each year, Cass processes about 36 million invoices on behalf of large shippers from many industries.

The large decline in freight shipments in April and May—compared to last year—indicates that many sectors of our economy have not yet bottomed out.