St Louis Fed’s FRED Stats System and RBI’s DBIE system

St Louis Fed’s FRED System is perhaps the best designed tool to play with econ stats (FRED stands for Federal Reserve Economic Data).

Yes one can literally play with stats here with its amazing download system and easy to graph chart. It is like Bloomberg given to you for free with much friendlier charting system and data to choose from.

Krugman (who is a bug fan of FRED) points to this interesting article on history of FRED system. It also profiles the current team members managing FRED. It is a super light team for the kind of work they do  (just 506 of them). The history is:

Frankly, we’re not used to seeing this level of innovation and user-friendliness on a public website, so we were curious to know the story behind it.

So a couple of weeks ago, we got the chance to chat with four people from the St. Louis Fed: Michael Cassidy, (Electronic Data Coordinator – FRED), Katrina Stierholz (Assistant Vice President and Director of Library and Research Information Services), George Essig (Senior Web Developer) and Julie Knoll (Senior Web Developer).

Michael Cassidy laid out the basic history for us:

It goes back to the 1960s and Homer Jones. Homer Jones started a history of producing data publications out of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, and FRED kind of became the electronic version of those data publications.  In 1991, we’d been producing those publications for awhile, and decided they needed to be put online in a bulletin-board format.

So we’d post, I think we had 200 data series at the time, they were all included in our data publications, and people could dial in and download them in a text format.  In 1996, we moved to the world wide web, and we had about 403 series. The modern version of FRED that you’re probably familiar with, FRED 2, that started in 2002.

In 2006 we came out with ALFRED, which was vintage data, graphing customization and allowed for units transformations and had about 3,000 series in FRED at the time. Then in 2007, we added about 20,000 additional series and started GEOFRED.

2011 turned out to be a banner year for FRED. According to Julie Knoll the site saw 1.9 million visits, a 42 percent increase from the year before. FRED visitors come from 200 countries.

The future aims are to bring more and more data on the system:

More importantly, perhaps, is the mission to FRED-ify the world.

On similar lines, RBI also has an online stats system for Indian economy called DBIE or Database on Indian Economy. Earlier version was really ugly and lethargic. Though must admit, it still helped get access to data which otherwise was nearly impossible to get. Once you managed to understand the system and were patient, you got lots of data in excel format. THis was a big bonus for anyone  who works in Indian economy research sector.

RBI even tried to push/nudge people into using DBIE by pushing excel files download utility to DBIE. So you could download PDfs from main databases/handbooks, but for excel you had to go to DBIE. And yes, it was updated for most data.

Now, RBI has released a new version of its DBIE system. RBI ED Mohanty announced this in his earlier speech on RBI Stats day.

A key achievement in this regard is the improvement of the Bank’s web enabled Data Warehouse, popular among the researchers as Database on Indian Economy (DBIE). Today various flagship data publications of the Bank like the Handbook of Statistics on Indian Economy originate from DBIE. A large amount of downloadable data is made available as a public good on near real time basis on the RBI website. I am happy to note that a more user friendly version of DBIE is being released today.

There is little doubt that the new DBIE is a much improved version. It has an easier to sight home page and listing of data.

Then there are some nice guides to go through the system:

And there is a superb calendar which tells you when certain kind of economic data will be updated. And yes, it is going to be pretty prompt, with updation happening either on the day of data release or next day.

This is very useful as otherwise one always has to carry their eco data excel files wherever you go. Now you can just log into DBIE and figure  the Indian eco  data. And it is pretty huge from macro to finance to socio-eco data as well.

You have data provided to you in two ways.

  • If you are familiar with previous RBI publications you click on Time-Series Publications.
  • If not sure then you go to Statistics and work your way through various categories like macro, finance etc.

But it is nothing compared to FRED. FRED clearly is the gold standard all such online database systems should look to aspire. For instance, many a times you need to refresh DBIE as links do not work. There is no charting facility as well which might come laters.

A definite improvement from RBI but still a long way to go.

People looking at Indian economics data and not sure where to go, this is the place where you should be looking at. It has most of the data and is updated as well. So get familiar with this new DBIE..


RBI has not even issued a press release on this new system. Should do that asap to bring more people to DBIE.

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