Baffled by the gyrations of the stock market? Confused by contradictory economic statistics? Weary of economic pundits who keep on forecasting even though they’ve blown it nearly all the time?

Friends, you don’t have to wait on tenterhooks for the next instantly obsolete report from Statistics Canada, or hold your breath for the Bank of Canada’s next pronouncement. You can start predicting the economy’s future yourself by using some simple observational skills based on the five key indicators in the Common Sense Index or CSI. The key components of the CSI go like this:

Bag factor: Sure, there are plenty of people walking around in shopping malls. The young go to them out of boredom, seniors go to them for exercise, and homeless people enjoy the climate control. But how many of the folks you see in malls are actually shopping? That’s why it’s so important to count shopping bags. More bags equal more retail sales.


Lot loads: If you have some spare time, drive through the industrial areas of your town or city and pay attention to factory parking lots. The fuller the lots, the more people are likely to be employed inside. If the lots are pretty empty, you know we’re not out of the woods yet.

Merchant anecdotes: When you shop, whatever it’s for, ask retailers about their business and whether they’re seeing positive changes since earlier this year. Sometimes the results are surprising. I recently had to buy a new refrigerator and I assumed big ticket appliances would be slow movers in a period when people are parsing out their cash. Not so, the retailer told me. People are staying home more and they need things like stoves and fridges, so business has been brisk.

Bums on seats: If you go to movies, theatres, clubs, whatever, are there full houses or something less? What sort of traffic is evident in restaurants and fast food outlets, not just at lunch when there always seems to be activity, but through the rest of the day and night? Make sure, however, to ignore indicators like the perpetually lengthy drive-thru lines at Tim Hortons, which are impervious to economic trends.

Hell on wheels: Huge trucks may make driving on major highways a nightmare, but the more there are, the more the economy is cranking over. Take a deep breath and be thankful that they’re cutting you off or threatening to crush you.

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