On The Outside

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What's going on?

The media has long been given early access to major economic data releases, but new reports this week suggest it now faces being locked out – with potentially worrying ramifications…

What does this mean?

Right now, the US government allows select members of the media to see major data releases ahead of time – think employment or economic growth – so they can prepare their stories. But the US Labor Department (in charge of said employment data) is thinking about getting rid of early access altogether, because… mumble mumble… security concerns?

Clear justification or no, the yet-to-be-approved move could give professional investors even more of an edge over their retail counterparts. Professionals tend to access market data directly, but retail investors typically depend on media updates to make informed decisions – and when time is of the essence, those journalists are far more likely to make mistakes.

Why should I care?

For you personally: When the going gets tough…

Retail investors are already at a disadvantage when it comes to making short-term investment choices: “institutional” investors have access to a $24,000-a-year terminal that shows data as soon as it’s released. But there’s more to being a successful investor than up-to-the-minute data. Many investors – Warren Buffett among them – would tell you market prices already reflect the information out there. It’s known as the “efficient market hypothesis”, and it might explain why stocks barely moved as the US and China made their trade deal official on Wednesday.

For markets: Locked out and locked up.

A widening information gap can – and indeed did – go too far. In 2012, regulators realized several banks had manipulated a key interest rate related to $300 trillion worth of loans by submitting false data – and in turn profited from related trading activity. The mooted change to media access is a long way off creating another such scandal, but some would argue it’s a slippery slope that could lead to altogether unreliable economic figures.

Originally posted as part of the Finimize daily email.

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