Philly Fed provides new outlook on area households

The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia has been conducting its monthly survey of manufacturers in the region since 1968.

Released on the third Thursday of every month, the findings of the Business Outlook Survey are widely anticipated and seen as an early indicator of how manufacturing is faring nationwide as measured by the Institute for Supply Management.

On Thursday, the Fed debuted a new quarterly survey that focuses on the services sector, but really tries to illuminate the state of low- and moderate-income households.

It's called the Community Outlook Survey, and the latest results indicate that the "financial well-being" of such households declined from the third quarter to the fourth quarter of 2010.

Well, duh, that seems self-evident, doesn't it? With only one quarter's worth of results, the value of such information is pretty limited. But as the Philly Fed has shown with its manufacturing report, the consistency and longevity of such surveys are a real strength.

As a quarterly report, Community Outlook Survey will never overshadow the more frequent regional manufacturing snapshot. But give it time, and maybe some useful data will emerge that may give consumer advocates some early warning on larger trends.

You can read more on the Fed's website here.