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The Accountants Confidence Index

Most people are familiar with economic indicators. They are pieces of economic data, usually of macroeconomic scale, that are used by investors to interpret current or future investment possibilities and judge the overall health of our economy. Economic indicators can potentially be anything the investor chooses, but specific pieces of data released by government and non-profit organizations have become widely followed.

An economic indicator is only useful if one interprets it correctly. History has shown strong correlations between economic growth (as measured by GDP) and corporate profit growth. Indicators give us signs along the road, but the best investors will utilize many economic indicators, looking for patterns and verifications within different sets of data.

Commonly used economic indicators include the 12 monthly and quarterly Principal Federal Economic Indicators released by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). These include GDP, Manufacturing and Trade: Inventories and Sales, Monthly Wholesale Trade and New Residential Construction. However, you might not be familiar with some of the non-profit economic indicators, specifically the Accountants Confidence Index.

The Accountants Confidence Index, ACI, published by Accounting Today in partnership with ADP, is a monthly economic indicator that leverages the insight of accountants into the strength and prospects of businesses in the U.S.

The ACI is created from a monthly poll of the Accounting Today Executive Research Council, an online community of more than one thousand tax and accounting professionals, who are asked to provide their short-term and mid-term estimates of the growth prospects of their own firms, their small, midsized and large business clients, and of the U.S. economy as a whole.

The latest Index, released on February 27, 2014, remained positive but uncertain, with a slight boost in the short-term expectations of growth, but a slight decrease in the mid-term expectations. In other words, no immediate change expected.

There were few major moves among the index components; among them were jumps of around two points for both the short- and the mid-term expectations for large businesses -- though they were still contractionary for the immediate future.

For those of us in the accounting and finance world, the ACI is an interesting data point. It provides a view of overall growth and stability from our colleagues as opposed to a federal agency. While no one can predict the future, I do follow the ACI and suggest that you do as well.