NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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Unit Values for Import and Export Price Indexes: A Proof of Concept

Don A. Fast, Susan E. Fleck


This chapter is a preliminary draft unless otherwise noted. It may not have been subjected to the formal review process of the NBER. This page will be updated as the chapter is revised.

Chapter in forthcoming NBER book Big Data for 21st Century Economic Statistics, Katharine G. Abraham, Ron S. Jarmin, Brian Moyer, and Matthew D. Shapiro
Conference held March 15-16, 2019
Forthcoming from University of Chicago Press
in NBER Book Series Studies in Income and Wealth

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ import and export price indexes (MXPI) are published from an ever decreasing sample relative to the size of trade. The Principal Federal Economic Indicator has an opportunity to retain and regain detailed MXPI using unit values calculated from comprehensive administrative trade data. The unit values from the high-frequency, high-volume source present a dilemma for official price statistics, given that unit value indexes are known to not track price indexes. This BLS research proposes a new methodological and statistical approach to identify detailed homogeneous product categories that show minimal unit value bias to include in the MXPI. The proof of concept for identifying homogeneous items is based on an analysis of two export products—dairy and vegetables—for 2015-16. The results provide a prototype and a roadmap for a consistent and testable approach that aligns with the concepts in official MXPI measures, maximizes the use of high-frequency data, and mitigates the likelihood of unit value bias. Applying the prototype, 52 of 142 import and 50 of 129 export 5-digit BEA End Use categories are identified as homogeneous using administrative data. This coverage accounts for 35 and 39 percent of the 2016 value of imports and exports, respectively. Incorporating unit values has the potential to deepen coverage and expand publication of detailed import and export price indexes.

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