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My Desktop Economic Indicators

Halamka
Economists track changes in the money supply, personal debt, consumer
confidence, and durable goods orders. My signs of economic health are
more subtle.

1. Email volume on nights and weekends

In
good times, people eat out at restaurants. They go to concerts, plays,
and movies. They take weekend trips with the family.

In bad times, they stay at home and email.

For
the past two months, I've received an average of 100 emails between
6pm-12am and another 50 between 12am and 6am. This is double the usual
volume for those hours.

Similarly I've received an average of 100 emails during the day on weekends.

I
believe there are two aspects to this indicator. People are not
spending money on "nice to have" events and people are very concerned
about their jobs, so they are working harder. As a corollary, some may
be working harder to cover for unfilled vacancies which are frozen or
for terminated positions.

It's clear to me that people are
working harder and longer than usual. As soon as the email volume
starts decreasing, I'll know that the economy is on the mend.

2. Parking lot volume at "fix it yourself" stores

As
the Home CIO, I do Cat 6, HDMI, and audio cabling. I do electrical and
plumbing. In a pinch, I do metal and carpentry. Over the weekend I
upgraded the cabling in my home to Cat 6 to support Gigabit Ethernet. You Do It Electronics,
our local component and cabling store in Needham, was packed with
customers trying to repair their home audio, video and computers rather
than upgrade or replace them. I chatted with the manager and he
explained that volumes have been much heavier the past few months with
folks who are avoiding new purchases and professional repairs. Is it
any wonder that Circuit City is going out of business?

When Best Buy's parking lot fills up and You Do It Electronics is quiet, the economy will be on the mend.

3. Resume volume and requests for help from colleagues

Every
day I receive 10 resumes from recently laid off senior IT
professionals. I also receive numerous emails and phone calls from
CEOs, Deans, and Professors asking me to help a colleague who has
recently lost his or her job. My first two calls today are with very
senior people to help begin their job networking process.

When the calls and resumes slow to 1 or 2 a day, the economy will be on the mend.

4. eBay price/sales volume

As
I do lifecycle maintenance and testing/improvement of my outdoor gear,
I sell my high end hiking/kayaking/skiing/climbing gear on eBay.
Generally I call sell these items at 80% of retail price. Now I'm
getting 50% or no sales at all.

When eBay returns to a vibrant marketplace the economy will be on the mend.

5. REI, Eastern Mountain Sports, Altrec, and Backcountry.com Spam volume

Every
day I get an email from an outdoor supplier advertising 25-75% off. The
sales advertising is endless and even previously undiscounted brands
such as Arcteryx are included in the price chopping frenzy.

When the "Last Chance to Save" Spam from retailers diminishes, the economy will be on the mend.

Maybe
I should share these indicators with former Harvard President Larry
Summers who now leads the White House's National Economic Council

John D. Halamka, MD, MS, is CIO of the
CareGroup Health System, CIO and Dean for
Technology at Harvard Medical School, Chairman of the New England
Health Electronic Data Interchange Network (NEHEN), CEO of MA-SHARE, Chair of the US
Healthcare Information Technology Standards Panel (HITSP), and a
practicing emergency physician. He blogs regularly at Life as a Healthcare CEO, where this post first appeared.

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