Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner hunts for signs of economic revival -- or fresh areas of distress. Every day he scans a checklist of 60 economic indicators ranging from currency exchanges to the price of copper to the sale of Steinway pianos to how much trash has been dumped in landfills, ABC News has learned.
In sifting through these economic tea leaves, Geithner tries to gauge where the economy is headed, what sectors need bolstering and when to simply back off.
The most visible indicator, the stock market, has been on a mini roll over the last few days, encouraging some to believe that the economy is finally pulling out of its steep dive. Or is the stock market rally just a blip, and will the arrow on the economic chart head south again any day now?
In his attempt to anticipate which direction the arrow is heading, Geithner plows through sophisticated data that includes credit markets, mortgage rates, multiple stock market indexes, consumer confidence, currency readings and commercial paper rates.
But some indicators are less complex than the London Interbank Offered Rate, a gauge of what banks pay to borrow from one another in the United Kingdom, yet equally sensitive to the shifting economic landscape.
"There are a lot of indicators that go beyond just the stock market," The Wall Street Journal's chief economics correspondent Jon Hilsenrath told "Good Morning America" today. "If you look at commodities markets you get sometimes very early warning signs of changes in global demand, so copper prices are something that is looked at very often."
The price of copper could suggest that the economy may be coming out of the recession. The cost of copper rose 18 percent so far this year, a hint manufacturers may be buying again to build homes, offices, computers and cell phones.
Companies such as Texas Instruments, which uses copper to produce medical equipment and consumer electronics, told investors this week that orders have increased 10.5 percent in 2009.
Other indications on the list that is handed to Geithner late each trading day, however, suggest the economy is still in the dumps. Some landfills are reporting as much as a 30 percent decline in trash over the last year because Americans are buying less and reusing more.
Steinway Pianos Hit Economic Sour Note
Another sour note on Geithner's daily report is the fact that sales fell more than 20 percent for the high-end piano manufacturer Steinway & Sons.
"If you are watching all these little wiggles on a daily basis, sometimes it's hard to know when you are in it, if things are actually turning around or if there's a blip," Hilsenrath told "GMA." "We've had a lot of false dawns in the last couple of years. Don't forget, we've been in this recession since December 2007."
But economists didn't know for sure the country was in a recession until late 2008. Tracking piano sales, the weight of dump trucks and the futures price of copper will, it's hoped, give Geithner an early warning of whether the recession is deepening or easing its grip.