Atlanta Fed vs NY Fed: Whose GDP Forecast Is Right?

Tyler Durden's picture

Authored by Salil Mehta via Statistical Ideas blog,

There is a 2/3 chance that both competing Federal Reserve 2017 Q1 GDP nowcasts are wrong! That’s an audacious prediction for the storied NY and Atlanta institutions (one of them led by my former big boss Timothy Geithner), and yet there is no way around the current confusion they are in. 

This is also critically important as one is showing a robust 3.2% growth reading, while the other is at 0.9% (the 2nd lowest reading in nearly 3-years) and essentially indicates that we are descending towards recession. 

[NOTE - NOWCAST just downgraded their forecast dramatically from 3.19% to 2.83%]

Are we descending towards recession?  It's unlikely but zero-growth is certainly in the cards and not reflected by these two nowcasts, and we certainly think there is only a single digit probability of a >3% GDP.  How could the NY Fed plausibly give such a madly high estimate (which if true would be the second highest in 2-years)?  Yet there you have it, two extreme readings, and a 2.3% (3.2%-0.9%) chasm between them.  We show here that the Federal Reserve’s conclusions are somewhat ridiculous, though shouldn’t be since they impact the open market committee monetary decisions that the world looks to.  And there are humbling lessons from these nascent Big Data, overfit models.

The chart here shows some basic information regarding the current GDP nowcasts.  As we via the two blue bars, we have the Atlanta nowcast on the left (the bar was recently as high as 3.4% earlier this year).  And the NY nowcast on the right (the bar was recently as low as 1.5%).  That’s right, both nowcasts passed each other, while aggressively moving further in the opposite direction!  The large swings in each are also doubtful, given each nowcast’s eventually advertised, margin of error (concordant paradigm in various forecasts by Taleb).  For a good chronology of these nowcast reports, refer to MishTalk.

Each nowcast boasts a margin of error of just ~1%, and this clearly poses an issue since the average of these two nowcasts (shown in orange at 2.1%) is clearly outside of both the Atlanta and the NY stated margin of error!  As supportive reference, we also show (in green) that the current 2016 Q4 GDP is nearby at 1.9%.  Now we should ask some important questions about how we keep getting into more strange nowcasts in the past year that they both have operated.  The first thing to appreciate is that the nowcasts are supposed to predict very tight errors that are uncorrelated to the variance in the actual GDP itself.  And good nowcasts should have errors independent of one another, except since the NY and Atlanta Fed operate independent of one another there is a good chance that there may be some modeling similarities.  We modestly assume this and derive through the variance formula (VarianceAtlanta+VarianceNY+2?Atlanta?NY?Atlanta,NY) that the margin of error of the difference between the models is just less than 1% (silver vertical interval arrows in chart above).  This is a highly plausible tight expected variance.  Sample size is also trivial here as we don't have the true expectation to model a limit from.  And with this, the probability of seeing an inadvertent 2.3% difference between the two correct Federal Reserve models is <5%.  Or that their publicized margin of error is awkwardly too low (to the point we’ll show later that randomly guessing the GDP would be safer).

We also have the probability that one of the nowcasts is correct, which due to symmetry means applying one of the nowcast stated margin of errors to the other nowcast value.  Or that the one nowcast is unintentionally correct, which would be like the <5% probability above.  So, in total the probability of one of the Federal Reserve nowcasts being correct and the other being wrong is ~10% (not the >½ that many may generously assume as they critique these divergent outputs).

That leaves us with two other possible outcomes still!  That is to split up the remaining 85% probability that both models are individually wrong into: (a) the average of the two models is still correct, and (b) even the average of both models is wrong.  This leaves us with no choice but to conclude that the probability that there is ~40% probability that the correct 2016 Q1 GDP is nowhere near either nowcasts nor the average of the two, and a >½ probability that the GDP is near the 2.1% average that inappropriately happens to be well outside both two nowcasts’ margin of error.  And between those two we can safely claim that there is a 2/3 chance that both models are total wrong (and merely <5% chance they are still both right).  There is perhaps a 30% chance one can smartly use both models in a deliberate way, though this is conditional on how they use the information and not at their endorsed specified face value.   

Now a more practical assumption of this is that the margins of error should be more than doubled (to 2.6%!), in which case no one would even use such nowcast models.  However, the probability breakdown in such a scenario is this:

  • <30% chance both models -with their current 2.3% chasm- are correct

  • ~60% chance one of the models is wrong and one is correct

  • ~10% chance both models are still wrong individually, though the average in rare cases is correct

In all cases, all three probabilities sum to 100% as they should.  And they lend a healthy sense of respect that incessantly observing each of these GDP nowcasts is commonly a waste of time, and that rarely will one gain insight from it other than from ex post luck.  It’s the same as the more senior open market committee models vainly attempt to forecast other macro-economic variables.  Sometimes simply looking at the most recent quarter’s GDP (in this case ~2%) is as good of a guess as any.  So is giving a little more weight to the near-0 probability most have of an outright contraction this quarter.  As a business CEO, one would want to be arranged for anything at this point, which a genuine 2.6% margin of error about GDP infers.

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spastic_colon's picture

the world has spent countless QE etc on trying to paper over the negative GDP for years; how many more recalculations can they do?

Looney's picture


Forget about Currency Wars and Trade Wars!

I’d like to see the regional Fed Wars – calling each other cunts and throwing feces at each other, like monkeys.   ;-)


Logan 5's picture
Logan 5 (not verified) Looney Mar 17, 2017 10:49 AM

"throwing feces at each other, like monkeys."


with the new Atlanta Fed gov, they've taken a step precisely in that direction.

knukles's picture

Because Bill DiBlazio's gonna have a whole lotta broken windows to fix?

JRobby's picture

Oh Atlanta!!!!

Only in NYC where the RE market is starting to crash would you get a positive GDP forecast. Think about that.

Of course in CA, the pharmaceuticals and other drugs prevent an actual valid study from being done at all. hard numbers are just not cool!

GUS100CORRINA's picture


What else can be said about the matter?


Newager23's picture

Q1 should be much closer to the Atlanta Fed number. Why? Mr D. (I'll keep his nickname a secret). That's the guy who makes the forecast for the Atlanta Fed. Check his calls for the last 2 years. He's been the most accurate of anyone. He usually only misses by a small margin. I think this is why the markets reacted on Wednesday to his .9% call. Mr D has a good track record of late.  

Logan 5's picture
Logan 5 (not verified) Mar 17, 2017 10:47 AM

Well naturally Atlanta is correct because they have that shiny new black fella in there. But I warn you that if you say that, you're being antisemitic against NY.

spastic_colon's picture

"We also have the probability that one of the nowcasts is correct..........."


And someone gets paid for this!!

Logan 5's picture
Logan 5 (not verified) spastic_colon Mar 17, 2017 10:49 AM

yeah (((someone)))

knukles's picture

Awesome job if you can get it.

E.F. Mutton's picture

This calls for Thunderdome

NoDebt's picture

Do you now understand why I have long advised NEVER listening to economists?  They're the biggest idiots in the room.  Completely cluseless.

NoDebt (economist)


BigFatUglyBubble's picture

bunch of neo-voodoo, if you ask me <<spits tobacco chew on ground disdainfully, wipes mouth with dirty sleeve>>

ASimpleTrader's picture

Never take direction from the talking heads. They are trying to move the herd in some financial direction.

What gets me is the disconnect with in the Fed C-banks. Yellen doesn't have nearly the control she thinks she has.  It will soon blow up in her face, then OURS.

Glad 2B Gone's picture

The difference between the 2 forecasts indicate that the Fed cannot accurately forecast.  Not a big surprise, as no one can accurately forecast given the flaws in virtually all the data inputs that go into the forecasts plus the flaws in the forecasting models themselves.  I guess Janet gets to pick the one that suits here message at the time in setting monetary policy.

ASimpleTrader's picture

That makes sense. Each FEd work up a differnt model that as we get closer to reporting times, she can pick which path gets her to what she really wants.

hotrod's picture

No one is correct.  The GDP is negative.  No way is the pie getting bigger.

2ndamendment's picture

Wishcasting should be left to fairies, gnomes, and hobbits, New York Fed.... 

Logan 5's picture
Logan 5 (not verified) 2ndamendment Mar 17, 2017 10:59 AM

You got somethin against fountains & Rumplestiltskin?

SoDamnMad's picture

The NY Fed includes banker bonuses in the GDP numbers and those WILL BE PAID even if every man , woman and child peon starves.  The Atlanta Fed only has real stuff in their GDP calculations.

There lies the difference in the numbers.. 

orez65's picture

Like who gives a shit about the Fed's GDP forecasts !

They claim that they need the GDP forecasts to set interest rates.

But that is like saying that you need to know the size of the carrot harvest to set the price of a pound of carrots.

The interest rate, that is the price of capital, should be set by the free market.

If there is a lot of capital then the interest rate is high and viceversa.


silverer's picture

MillionDollarBogus: Tell 'em how it is buddy. You're always right without the facts. lol

rejected's picture

Ask those poor bastards not counted as unemployed that cannot find decent paying work, living in their cars or tents which GDP forecast is right.


ElTerco's picture

The assumptions built into their models no longer hold in Trumpworld (as they would not hold in Bizzaroworld). Trump has "broken" normative human behavior.

dlfield's picture

I thought each Fed region forecasted for its own geographical region?

Ajax_USB_Port_Repair_Service_'s picture

Chelsea Clinton could fix this mess.

wholy1's picture

For the "System D" crowd,  who CARES?

LawsofPhysics's picture

LOL!!  Both are wrong by design...

There is no spoon.

"Full faith and credit"

ASimpleTrader's picture

LOL, its that faith part thats troubling.

In her next press conference,  I can picture Yellen coming out in a Darth Vader mask and cape and start shouting about She's "finding your lack of faith disturbing" and start choking the financial press corp as they start all asking her real questions.

ASimpleTrader's picture

LOL, its that faith part thats troubling.

In her next press conference,  I can picture Yellen coming out in a Darth Vader mask and cape and start shouting about She's "finding your lack of faith disturbing" and start choking the financial press corp as they start all asking her real questions.

Consuelo's picture



Never such an assembling of market neuroticism...

But this:


"As a business CEO, one would want to be arranged for anything at this point, which a genuine 2.6% margin of error about GDP infers."


Which essentially, would mean what - run around like a scalded cat with a different 'arrangement' every day...?


Fuck me.



Hugh G. Rection's picture

What do you get when you put 4 economists in a room?


Five opinions!


(Disclosure, I have a BS in Economics)

tripletail's picture

Seriously? The GDP isn't even calculated correctly. It's total BS. Not unlike the US debt.

strategory's picture

This analysis seems to forget that there is still a month and a half (50%) of data coming out about Q1. The two will converge by the end of April.

Sledge-hammer's picture
Sledge-hammer (not verified) Mar 17, 2017 5:09 PM

Every Fed Reserve bank in the U.S. is staffed with jews.  This article is a akin to The Syphilitic vs the Herpetic.