Innovation Drives the FRED Team

August 04, 2022

This 35-minute podcast was released August 4, 2022, as a part of the Timely Topics podcast series.

A group of individuals sit around a table recording a podcast.

From left: Katrina Stierholz, group vice president, St. Louis Fed; Keith Taylor, FRED data officer, St. Louis Fed; Sunayna Tuteja, chief innovation officer, Federal Reserve System; Carlos Garriga, senior vice president, St. Louis Fed; and Yvetta Fortova, FRED product owner, St. Louis Fed. The group discusses how innovation drives the team leading FRED.

“FRED is basically a trusted source of economic data,” says Katrina Stierholz, group vice president who oversees FRED at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. She is joined by Carlos Garriga, senior vice president and research director; Keith Taylor, FRED data officer; and Yvetta Fortova, FRED product owner; in a discussion with Federal Reserve System Chief Innovation Officer Sunayna Tuteja. Listen to the FRED team share the history of this economic data, how they focus on the experiences of FRED users and share their favorite FRED data sets.



Transcript

Maria Hasenstab: Welcome to the St. Louis Fed’s Timely Topics podcast series where we interview economists and other experts at the St. Louis Fed about their research and their work. In this special Timely Topics episode, you’ll hear from Federal Reserve Chief Innovation Officer Sunayna Tuteja, as she interviews leaders of the FRED team. FRED stands for Federal Reserve Economic Data, and it’s one of the Fed’s earliest innovative products. Listen to the leaders of the FRED team share the history of this economic data, how they focus on the experiences of FRED users, and even discuss their favorite FRED datasets.

Sunayna Tuteja: I can’t be more excited than to be here in St. Louis live, and not just meeting and engaging with the FRED team, but recording a podcast to learn more about this amazing product and the impact that it’s making, but also what does the future look like for the FRED? So, I’m delighted to be here with my colleagues who are going to join me in this conversation, and with that, maybe we’ll start with a quick round of intros. Katrina, maybe I’ll hand you the baton.

Katrina Stierholz: Sure. So, I’m Katrina Stierholz. I am the Director of Research and Information Services, and I oversee FRED and some of our other programs, economic education, FRASER, and our publications team.

Tuteja: For our audience, Katrina is sporting a very lovely FRED hoodie, so she’s the one you want to hit up when you want one. Keith?

Keith Taylor: Keith Taylor. I’m the research officer responsible for the FRED strategy and implementing that strategy and the web strategy within the research division.

Tuteja: Excellent. Thank you for being here.

Taylor: And I’m the only one not wearing a FRED shirt. I just realized.

Stierholz: I noticed that when you came in this morning. I was like…

Tuteja: Not representing the brand?

Taylor: I told you, it’s not my color.

Tuteja: Carlos?

Carlos Garriga: Hi. This is Carlos Garriga. I’m currently the Research Director here at St. Louis. And FRED, it’s part of what we do in the division.

Tuteja: Awesome. Thank you for being here. Yvetta?

Yvetta Fortova: Hello. My name is Yvetta Fortova. I’m a FRED product owner, and I’m responsible for implementing the strategy that Keith tells me to do.

Tuteja: I would submit a little opposite debate to that because based on my observations today, I think it’s the opposite. So, okay. Maybe let’s start from the beginning. If there are normies out there who are like, “What is this FRED thing you speak of?” Katrina, maybe you can tell our audience what is FRED, and why are we gushing about FRED so much?

Stierholz: So, FRED is basically a trusted source of economic data. We have over 800,000 series from all across the world over 100 different sources. FRED’s created and maintained by the research division in the St. Louis Fed, and probably one of the biggest values of FRED is that it puts all these things together in one place so you don’t have to go to 100 different places to find economic data. You do it in one place. It’s incredibly useful for the public.

Tuteja: So, like a one-stop shop?

Stierholz: Exactly.

Tuteja: Love it. And I think one thing you also said which in interacting with your team, it’s very mission-oriented in the sense that you guys are really focused on how do you democratize this information, which we’ll talk a little bit more about. I know we love acronyms at the Fed, so maybe spell out what FRED actually stands for.

Stierholz: So, FRED stands for Federal Reserve Economic Data. I will say we don’t use that much anymore. We just call it FRED.

Tuteja: Yes. And as a FRED groupie, I can attest to that. So, let’s double-click into that a little bit more. I’m always curious about what was the origin story, right? So, what was the genesis of FRED? Why was it even needed? How did it come to be?

Stierholz: So, FRED started actually in paper. In 1961, we have this great memo from the Research Director of the time, a man named Homer Jones, who was famous as a Research Director, really an innovative Research Director. He sent out a little memo. Actually, let me read, because I printed it out.

Tuteja: Love it.

Stierholz: He said, “Possibly, these tables and charts are of some use in measuring monetary action or changes in monetary action from time to time.” So, it’s a very modest statement, but he is talking about transparency, public access, usability, and understanding the economy. Those are values we have now. So, 30-plus years later, those values have been consistent in what we do.

So, it started with three tables in 1961, and it became these weekly and monthly what we call data publications, which were just data tables that went out. They were so incredibly popular. People actually used to call into the bank when they knew the data publications were being put together and ask for the data.

Tuteja: Stop it.

Stierholz: Yeah. No, totally. We have an oral history interview with the women who worked on it at the time, and they would get phone calls nonstop, so it tells you too people wanted it fast even back then, just fast meant something different. So, those data publications were popular in 1991. The data that was published in those publications was also put on an electronic bulletin board, the old modem. And there were roughly 300 series, and you had to dial in to get it, and it was named FRED, the electronic bulletin board, and that’s how that name came to be.

In about ’93, maybe ’95, moved onto the worldwide web and as they say, in some ways, the rest is history. But the number of series has grown, the usage has grown, the speed at which data are loaded has gone down tremendously. I mean, it’s really incredible to go from roughly 300 series online to over 800,000.

Tuteja: That’s amazing. So, what you’re saying is that walk through memory lane was really informative and inspiring, and just the scale and the ubiquity of how much it’s grown just tells you that there’s demand and utility for this product. What I love is how you said the datasets may have evolved, the technologies and modalities through which consumers are engaging with that are obviously getting faster and different and better, but the underlying ethos of what the genesis of FRED was predicated on, you and your team are still kind of carrying on that torch. That’s pretty awesome.

Stierholz: Absolutely. And I would say, and I’m totally confident, the team feels the mission. They have a real sense of public service. They really work hard to make sure the data are usable by the public. It motivates people every day.

Tuteja: That’s awesome. Yvetta, kind of moving to you as our FRED product leader, would love to kind of hear your perspectives on examples of personas that you and your team obsess about and want to kind of cater FRED towards, so maybe enlighten us. Who are these personas? Who are these users?

Fortova: Sure. So, FRED has a lot of personas, but one of the ones that we are most proud of are educators, so those are people who really bring a lot of benefit to students because if they decide to use FRED to teach economic concepts, that’s very powerful to do because then, it gives the students a sense of belonging and understanding the data and the information around it.

And it can be as simple as a teacher giving students assignment to learn about a labor force concept and unemployment, and the students will be able to come to FRED. They can see the graphs on the FRED website. They can see that this data is published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is the originating source, and they really can get an understanding that if I’m 16 years and above, am I part of the labor force? Am I now part of the labor force? And maybe if I take the number of unemployed and divide it by the labor force, I’m going to achieve unemployment rate, and it’s exactly the unemployment rate that’s published in the news, that you can hear in the media. And next time, when they see on the TV that unemployment rate spiked up to 8%, they can understand that “Hey, something’s not right.” I think that’s really where our heart belongs.

Tuteja: That’s awesome. Well, speaking of educators, I was first red pilled on FRED when I was an undergrad steward at the University of Alberta in Canada, so just so you know, Mr. FRED has gone international in some ways. I love that often times, FRED is associated as its usage really being from a professional setting, economists, financial services professionals, but I like how you connected it to it also amplifies and empowers you as an individual – right? – because every day, we’re living organisms in this economy, so I really like how you connected those dots.

Garriga: And for the educator, FRED offers a unique opportunity to offer dynamic charts, which is something that with the other technology was infeasible. All the printed materials, as soon as they got printed, got dated. No new data was included. And right now, they’re kind of vetting their materials where based in most cases the most current data, so every time the student goes, they know for sure that they’re looking at the more recent data.

So, in some sense, it is just the innovation that allows basically students to be up to speed, and I think it really moves the needle compared to traditional textbooks. Textbooks, as soon as they’re printed, they’re dated because the data doesn’t get updated whereas us, it’s essentially kind of a real-time or live content that people kind of date constantly, and I think that makes it so attractive for educators.

Tuteja: And in some ways, it’s like FRED keeping up with the times. We live in a world where everything we do is on-demand, so in a way, you’re saying FRED data is on-demand. It’s almost like streaming data. And who knows? There’s people binging on FRED, for all we know.

Garriga: I mean, there’s a big push for being more ecofriendly, and I think moving into the digital world can certainly be a step in the right direction as opposed to printed series that we know that get dated, especially the high-frequency ones. I mean, we have monthly data, daily data, so those are going to be hard to go in a hard piece of paper.

Tuteja: Yeah. And I’m thinking also in the context of the pandemic where a lot of these datasets were high-frequency datasets, derivative datasets, and how the velocity of this data is only speeding up, so to your point about FRED being more dynamic becomes even more of an additive. Carlos, one of the things that you’ve—not even humble bragging—you’ve just been outright bagging, as you should, is how FRED is an amplifier of online traffic to the Fed. So, can you extrapolate that and tell us more?

Garriga: Well, I mean, the system definitely likes to engage with all constituents, but it’s difficult because of the content of our material is usually highly technical. So, in some sense, FRED really offers a clear gateway to access educators and their students all the way to senior constituents, which I think is fantastic. And that explains why in the system, 20% of the traffic is entirely driven by FRED, and if you think about it, that’s essentially 1 out of 5. So, that is terrific access for people that want to come to the system, and eventually, they may end up perusing in some of the other websites within the system. I think it provides a clear and unique opportunity to showcase the Fed to our constituents.

Tuteja: Yeah. And I would say having recently come from the private sector, obviously, when people think of the Fed, they think of its role as a regulator, its role, obviously, in leading monetary policy, but having come from the fintech and crypto world, the very next thing is “Oh, and a FRED app,” right? So, I think the level of brand recognition that the FRED app or FRED has in amplifying the Federal Reserve’s brand is also a very powerful additive.

We’re going to pivot a little bit to, as I like to call, Keith API Taylor to also talk to us a little bit about the enterprise persona, which was kind of a new thing I learned.

Taylor: Yeah. So, FRED has had an API for more than 10 years now, 15 years, and it’s actually the most popular part of FRED. We actually ran some statistics on it. We saw that we had about 1.1 billion requests in an 11-month period. And this is, like you said, the enterprise users, so these are investment banks, hedge funds, regular banks, business institutions that are all trying to get as much data as they can as quickly as possible. So, it’s a relatively small number of users who are just constantly hitting FRED and just constantly getting the latest data, latest data, latest data and populating their own backend systems. So, it’s like a completely different type of user than we think of when we think of the FRED user and the educators and just really demonstrates the breadth of the types of users that we have.

Another thing that I think is really interesting from an innovation standpoint is as soon as we put out the API, programmers started creating API wrappers for our API, so in all these different languages and statistical packages – so, everything from Python and R to even Lisp and some other kind of less-common languages – and they reach out to us and say, “Hey, can you put it on your API documentation?” So, we have a whole list of wrappers for all these different kinds of programming languages, and it never occurred to us to actually suggest to people to do this. They just started doing it and emailing us. Kind of one of these built it and they will come, things that we just didn’t expect to see.

Tuteja: Which usually doesn’t work out for most businesses that have that as a strategy.

Taylor: Yes, exactly.

Tuteja: But I think, again, it highlights just when you create utility – right? – and people are drawn to it, and what I’m also sensing as you’re describing these different personas is the diversity of the user sets. So, Yvetta, now I get it when you started your answer with “There’s so many personas.” But I think also, this inclusive community that you’re building, and they are all coming from different walks of life for different reasons, but in a way, FRED is like the unifier experience.

And I know Carlos, you’ve spoken about the community aspect of FRED being an important component of this offering, so maybe talk to us a little bit about how this community works and what new users or existing users should be tapping into.

Garriga: Well, we have a humungous catalog of data, and one of the key things is to provide existing as well as new users with a good description of what is in the catalogue. And we tried to make some big pushes in that direction, so we created a while ago a FRED blog post that we post regularly, and the scope is multifold. We want to make sure that people discover within our catalogue very interesting data series that may not be aware, and those could be used by educators or by people that might be curious about history, which I think are very unique.

We also want to show, how can you display data? I mean, data by itself may not tell a story, so you may need to spend a bit of time making sure that the graph tells a compelling story that doesn’t require you to articulate it with a lot of words and a lot of text, and that’s challenging, and this is a challenge that we have discussed with the team.

One of the key challenges out there in people that play digital digitalization is how to make all graphs look really good from the get go? You can make one graph tell a very compelling story, but make a big catalogue like ours tell a compelling story from the get go, it’s kind of the nirvana for people that are working in this space, and that’s one of the North Star for the team.

So, I think the block serves multiple purposes to display the catalogue and hopefully show different ways to visualizing data. It’s not about putting out their CPI and you take a look at it. But basically, can you tell a better story by plotting the data a little bit differently? And obviously, we have kind of an ultimate goal. We would like to basically have FRED being kind of the front end of our communication. We would like to have all the Federal Reserve Bank external communications come out of FRED so when people say, “Well, the chair is looking at this graph,” everybody can look at exactly the same graph that the chair is taking a look at. That would be kind of the ultimate goal for all of us. So, at least we can disagree on what it really means, but we won’t disagree on what the graph looks like and how do you plot it? I think that would be kind of the ultimate goal for our team.

Tuteja: Leave it to an economist. That gives you permission to disagree, right? So, the right hand versus left hand. I had to dunk on an economist. I can’t help myself. But Carlos, you’re clearly a man with a vision, and it’s fascinating that in a way, FRED has stood the test of time, and Katrina walked us through the genesis story and how it’s adapted over the last 30 years. But we also know when you have a successful product with a nice product market fit, you can’t rest on your laurels, right? You got to keep leveling up. So, with that in mind, Carlos, paint for us what your vision for FRED is in the coming years. What could power users or new users of their beloved FRED app be expecting?

Garriga: Well, this year we’ve employed what we call the snapshots, which is a very innovative application that basically tries to summarize something that you might refer as a dashboard that has all kinds of useful macroeconomic aggregates that may give you a snapshot of what a particular economy, in our case the U.S. economy may look like, and we use that as a beta testing product. And the hope would be that down the road, we could basically provide a flexible product that would allow anybody to create their own dashboard that they could upend to their email address or their business so they could see essentially by clicking on it, what are they looking at? That would be one of the many things that we’re definitely looking into it.

We also would like to make sure, as I mentioned earlier, that people become more aware of what we have in the catalogue, and that may give us an indication of what is the demand out there? We hear from many sources that they want to have more financial data. Financial data’s expensive, but we’re making big efforts to get more financial data. Obviously, we don’t want to miss out in the digital currency space, so definitely, this is one direction that we need to make sure that we cater towards. So, there’s a lot of directions, a lot of things that are going on, but let me stop for now.

Tuteja: Yeah, that’s very helpful. And we can assume that all our listeners know this, but FRED is 100% free, correct?

Stierholz: Absolutely.

Tuteja: Okay. Thank you for validating, Katrina. Listen, Yvetta is ultimately our product leader extraordinaire, so all of our dreams and aspirations for FRED somehow end up at Yvetta’s desk, so would love to hear from you in terms of your vision for FRED.

Fortova: So, you’re saying that they are ending up in a reality world now?

Tuteja: Reality whatever. Speaking of both.

Fortova: There are certain aspects that we know are happening in any product markets. One is evolving technology, and with evolving technology, the way users consume our product and try to obtain data can change. The recency is also changing. We have relatively young user base. Majority of our users are younger than 34 years old. So, they are looking into quick, fast checking way of data information, so they are more likely to grab a cellphone and looking on FRED from their phone.

But really, because everything is changing, our future really lies in more analysis of our user base as we have a lot of potential in international markets. We have about 40% of our users coming from international, and we have great potential in increasing our women’s audience because only one-third of our users are women. So, any women out there, I hope you are hearing me.

Tuteja: Download the app now.

Fortova: This is a plea to come and visit FRED.

Tuteja: I like it. I like a good call to action, and she’s the best kind of product owner. She always leaves you with an action item. And we will, in the show notes, have links to all of these reference points that you’re noting, including the ability to download the app, to the main site, the blog, etc. And I would echo A, I think the value that the FRED app, I keep saying app because I’m an app user, but FRED generally offers to all these different segments is really profound.

But again, as a female in an investment banking industry and venture and technology industry, I can attest that while I’ve always been a loyal user of the FRED, and my groupie status of the FRED way proceeded me joining the Fed, is because it armed me with information and analysis. And when I wasn’t sure of something, I had a place to go to learn that broke it down for me, that gave me the information, that provided me with a community that even if I was daunted by this meeting that I was walking into, it gave me a sense of confidence because I felt like, “OK, I understand the material. I understand the material. I’ve connected with my community.” So, I think if nothing else, as young women start to kind of move up the leadership role in tech, finance, that this is definitely a great resource. And did we mention it’s free? So, anything else you want to add to the future of FRED, Yvetta?

Fortova: I also wanted to say that we hope that we can have a great success and really, we cannot be what we are without the underlying data sources that we use to give us the data. So, I just wanted to also say that FRED cannot be where it is without the statistical agencies and the treaty organizations that also take care of the data, and they’re subject matter experts in disseminating the data, so I just wanted to highlight that. It is really all a collaborative effort to put data out to public for the better decision-making.

Tuteja: Good shoutout. Well-deserved. And best kind of durable innovation is predicated on strong collaboration, which obviously, this is a testament to. One of the things that Katrina often reminds me is the FRED team is a small but mighty team, and I think we’ve gotten a sense of that given where you started, kind of thinking of that meme, how it started, how it’s going, and there’s this awesome runway for growth, and the fact that there’s this small, committed, mission-driven team that’s bringing this product to bear every day is pretty amazing.

Fortova: Agreed.

Tuteja: And it’s always good to have what they say BHAG, bold, huge, audacious goals, and I’m excited to kind of follow the future journey of FRED brought to you by the St. Louis Fed.

Hasenstab: Now, let's take a quick break.

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis invites you to hear from women who are making their marks in the field of economics. In our Women in Economics Podcast Series, we host one-on-one conversations with economists, professors, journalists, business leaders, and other influential women who have studied and are working in the field of economics. You can find all our Women in Economics Podcast Series episodes on stlouisfed.org or wherever you're listening. 

And one of the things we love to do at the end of this podcast is do a few rapid-fire questions, but because this is the FRED team, we added an extra spicy question because our listeners are going to want to know. So, the one question I would love all four of you to answer is what’s your favorite data series in FRED? And Yvetta, we’ll start with you.

Fortova: So, mine are changing. I do have to admit to that. Between the 816,000 series, it’s hard to stay on one for a very long time.

Tuteja: She’s so fickle.

Taylor: It’s more like a parent. Just pick your favorite child.

Tuteja: No, no, no. You have to pick one.

Fortova: I know. I know. I know. I would have to pick industrial production series which is published by Board of Governors, and the reason is that it is the series that has over 100 years of data. It’s a continuous series from 1919 all the way until present. And in addition, it’s the series that has the most real-time vintages captured in our all-FRED database. So, we went and did the paper exercise on finding all the press releases and found values to understand how the series evolved all the way back from 1927.

Tuteja: Wow. Now, that’s commitment. Was there a-ha moment when you did this exercise?

Fortova: I’m sure the people who did it were very excited to do that. I was not part of that exercise. But I think it’s a nice series for many reasons because if you start thinking about how the data evolves, you’re going to find out that this series, for example, currently, it’s based on North American industry classification system, and back in the days, it was called something else. I think it was called SIC, Standards in Industry Classifications. So, really, the way the series evolves gives you a sense that it’s an evolving child.

Tuteja: I love that you’re such a nerd. I mean that in the best possible, lovable way. Keith?

Taylor: My favorite series is about me, of course, because that’s who I am.

Tuteja: Such a technologist.

Taylor: Exactly. No, no. My favorite series, it’s called USRECD, and it’s the U.S. Recession Data Daily. And…

Tuteja: A little obsessive, are we?

Taylor: Yes. And so, when I first started on the FRED team, I was a data engineer, and one of my first assignments was to disaggregate the monthly data from the National Bureau of Economic Research which produces this into a daily series, and it was done basically from a coding standpoint. It’s just easier in statistical languages to have a daily series that you can line up with your daily series so you can do recessions. And so, I started working on this thing, and it just exposed all of these issues around data and technology and how they all merge together. And I will say, I coded this in Pearl, which has been the bane of the data desk’s existence ever since—so, it’s been converted from Pearl to PHP to Python over the last decade. I think it’s emblematic of the journey of FRED and of my own personal journey and just this evolution. You wouldn’t do it that way today but at the time, it worked, and it got it out the door, and it got it to the users, which I think is kind of a lot of the research spirit. We have these coffee mugs. I think it’s Einstein, “If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be research,” and there is that ethos…

Tuteja: Are you just sucking up to Carlos because he’s sitting right here? Is that what’s happening?

Taylor: Yes. I’m totally sucking up to my boss’s boss. Yes.

Tuteja: It’s OK. You’re allowed.

Taylor: But yeah, that ethos, and it’s demonstrated in USRECD, and it’s demonstrated in all of FRED.

Tuteja: I will have to go check that out. Thank you. You’ve convinced me. So, Katrina. I’m loving the personalized relationship that you guys have with these favorite series, so Katrina.

Stierholz: So, mine would be CPI, which is the most basic one. I was really afraid other people were going to take it because I was like, “Oh, no. Please don’t do that.” So, to me, inflation is kind of the—first, it happens to everybody. People experience inflation. They understand it intuitively. They’re living it right now. You can talk about inflation. It’s economic data people get. It’s kind of, to my mind, the gateway into economic data because if you can understand it and relate it to your personal life, and I remember as a kid the crazy inflation in the 80s, gas lines and all of that and crazy mortgage rate and how important it was, and then it got quiet, and now it’s back in the news again. And it is just one of those things, people really have a personal experience with inflation. And so, when you talk to people about data and you show them inflation data, they get it.

Garriga: And we have every single flavor.

Stierholz: Absolutely.

Garriga: We have headline, we have core, we have services, and then it’s component, education…

Stierholz: We have CPE and CPI.

Taylor: We should say that the views of Katrina are not the views of the Federal Reserve system, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, or the FOMC.

Stierholz: Right? I know. I was like, “I’m not sure I can talk about inflation.”

Garriga: I don’t think she’s subject to blackout.

Taylor: Yeah, exactly.

Garriga: FRED is out of bounds.

Tuteja: Well, and I think from an education perspective, that’s an important component because one of the things you hear a lot about current inflation is there is demographics that have never experienced it. I mean, to a lot of us even around this table, inflation is something we studied in school. We’ve lived in these elongated all-Bull markets. And so, the first time that people are forming their very first relationship with this abstract concept called inflation—I mean, I’m feeling it in my Uber and Doordash prices, so if you can help me out there. So, yeah.

Stierholz: Well, like 10 years ago, I went into a classroom and did the little inflation thing and showed them, “And this is FRED.” Totally blank faces about inflation. They were like, “I have no idea what she’s talking about,” and I thought, “Oh, my God. You’ve never experienced it.”

Garriga: I mean, some of our young users that are going through college right now, they heard a bit from their parents about the financial crisis, and that was not too long ago. We’re talking about 2007. So, now you’re talking about an episode that happened in the late 70s, early 80s. That’s really part of history. Not just economic history, but history in general.

Tuteja: I hear they wore bell-bottomed jeans and listened to weird music back then, and there was no streaming music.

Garriga: That was more the 70s, but yes.

Tuteja: All right. So, Carlos, what’s your favorite?

Garriga: Well, I’m a microfinance guy concerned about monetary policy, so one of the most flashiest series nowadays is the famous yield curve inversion, which is—obviously, I’m not going to pick one. I’m going to pick two because I’m an economist. I’m going to pick…

Tuteja: Of course. Of course.

Garriga: We’re going to pick a ratio between the 10-year and 3-year…

Tuteja: God forbid an economist made a decision.

Garriga: Well, it’s just the ratio between two series, which is the 10-year treasury and the 3-year treasury, which is the best predictor that we have in the post-war period about recession. So, when that ratio goes negative, it’s predicted then somewhere between 12 to 18 months, the U.S. economy, we’d go in a recession, and that inversion even predicted COVID. Now, an ongoing, open question is why does the yield curve inversion have such a power, and nobody has been able to prove that conjecture. It is almost like for math conjecture, it took hundreds of years to prove it, so hopefully, in the near future, some other—I mean, existing and future users will be able to maybe kind of close explain why that inversion predicts a recession. I mean, there’s some conjectures out there based on expectations about future growth, but it is fascinating.

And a few weeks ago, we had an inversion for just a small period of time. We’re back to a positive 30/30, but central bankers pay quite a bit attention, and everybody that has bet against the inversion has lost so far, so that’s a bet that I’m not sure people want to take. So, when you hear “This time it’s going to be different,” you should start getting concerned.

Tuteja: The famous last words, “This time is different.”

Garriga: That’s right, “This time is different.”

Tuteja: And by the way, none of this is investment advice.

Garriga: Exactly, yeah.

Tuteja: All right. So, we’re going to make a bit of a pivot and jump into some of our other rapid-fire questions and give our audience a bit of a sneak peek in terms of who you are, what you obsess about beyond FRED. Okay, now call to action because Yvetta already showed us that we’re all about doling out action items, right? So, one quick takeaway or call to action for our listeners, Katrina, go.

Stierholz: You don’t have to be a big team to be innovative. A small but mighty team has made incredible innovations.

Tuteja: Carlos?

Garriga: I would say that as innovator, you don’t have to have the custom base to come out with innovation. Go for it, and then we’ll figure it out. That’s part of innovation. Some stuff will stick and some other won’t, but just go for it. Don’t wait for a finalized product. The perfect market does not exist out there. That’s kind of a unicorn. Don’t go for unicorns. You won’t find them.

Tuteja: Wait, unicorns aren’t real?

Garriga: That’s what I heard.

Tuteja: Hey. And also, I would like to extend a call to action that I know I’ve gotten from Carlos which is very beneficial, which is follow the blog, and engage in the community.

Garriga: For sure. We want your feedback. We’re trying to find new ways of getting feedback, but for sure, the blog. It’s a great place for you to leave comments, a good way to see many of the applications that what can do with the data and how to plot them. So, for sure, they should be following the blog closely, and I think our Twitter account?

Stierholz: The St. Louis Fed’s Twitter account, yeah. It features FRED all the time.

Garriga: Yeah. Features FRED all the time, so that’s a perfect place to give feedback.

Tuteja: Yeah, and we’ll link all of those things. And it sounds like you want a dialogue with your users. Each of you said it in your own way, which I think is super exciting. Yvetta?

Fortova: You might have heard about the FRED shirts that some of the listeners are wearing today, and I just wanted to let you guys know if you’re interested in having one for your own, we have an Economy Museum here in St. Louis Fed. Come visit. It is equipped with a store where you can purchase FRED swag.

Tuteja: FRED swag for the win. Keith? Let me guess; it’s going to be a technology ask.

Taylor: Of course. Download the app.

Tuteja: And we will link to all of these resources in our show notes. And now, we’re going to pivot to some regular programming rapid-fire questions. So, number one, and whoever wants to go first, what book or article have you shared or gifted to others the most?

Garriga: I mean, a big one here lately, it’s been Jim McKelvey’s “The Innovation Stack” book, which is a fantastic book, and we often use his approach because essentially, that’s the best way to survive, making sure that innovation is just not a single thing, but it’s a community process of many things that make you competitive. Want to stay away from it and just focus on your users, and I think that’s the key. I mean, that’s really right in the research alley, and Jim has been a tremendous supporter of the FRED team from day one and an avid user. So, definitely, people should check that book out.

Tuteja: Good recommendation. And I can vouch for the St. Louis team gifting out that book often because I got one, so thank you, and it’s a very good read. Who wants to go?

Stierholz: I have another one. So, there’s a book called “The Data Detective” by Tim Harford. So, it’s not detail about data. It’s kind of how to approach data. There’s so much data. We know some things about economic data, but perhaps we don’t know about let’s say COVID data or other kinds of data. It’s how to approach data with kind of rules of thumb so that you are not overcome by what is presented to you, but you ask good questions of data so you can be a better data user. So, if you’re a little worried, like, “I don’t know if I have what it takes to understand that data,” it’s a great place to start, and then look at data.

Tuteja: I love it. Let’s jump to the next one. What’s the kindest thing someone has done for you? Yvetta, I see you looking at me.

Fortova: I was looking at you because I do have something that is actually related to FRED. So, something really nice that happened to me was I was helping a user with a technical question that evolved around FRED, and then a couple months later, I received an envelope around holidays, and it was a handwritten holiday card from international user thanking me for helping him to resolve something that he struggled on for a very long time.

Tuteja: That’s amazing. Let me guess; he was from Canada?

Fortova: Yes.

Tuteja: See? Canadians. And St. Louisans. Is that the right thing?

Tuteja: I’ll look that up. Yeah. I was going to say, I don't know what—but that’s a wonderful story. And I think, again, it shows the impact of not just your product but the impact it has on people and you going above and beyond, so thank you for sharing that. All right. Well, FRED friends, I just want to say how grateful I am for this opportunity to spend quality time with all of you and for engaging in this fun discussion live from St. Louis and giving our colleagues at the Fed and externally a little bit of a preview of the innovation that is FRED, so thank you very much.

Hasenstab: Thanks for listening to this special episode of Timely Topics with the leaders of the FRED team. To learn more about FRED, visit stlouisfed.org. That’s where you can check out all our Timely Topics podcast episodes where we feature conversations with experts from the St. Louis Fed. You can also find Timely Topics on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you’re listening now.

Economists and other experts from the St. Louis Fed talk about their research, economics-related topics in the news and issues specifically related to the Fed. Views expressed are not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis or of the Federal Reserve System.

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