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Indicators and indexes generally play an important role in developing judgmental forecasts. Indicators are measures that are believed to influence the behavior of a variable we wish to forecast. By monitoring changes in indicators, we expect to gain insight about the future behavior of the variable to help forecast the future. For example, one variable that is important to the nation’s economy is the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is a measure of the value of all goods and services produced in the United States. Despite its shortcomings (for instance, unpaid work such as housekeeping and child care is not measured; production of poor-quality output inflates the measure, as does work expended on corrective action), it is a practical and useful measure of economic performance. Like most time series, the GDP rises and falls in a cyclical fashion. Predicting future trends in the GDP is often done by analyzing leading indicators—series that tend to rise and fall some predictable length of time prior to the peaks and valleys of the GDP. One example of a leading indicator is the formation of business enterprises; as the rate of new businesses grows, one would expect the GDP to increase in the future. Other examples of leading indicators are the percent change in the money supply (M1) and net change in business loans. Other indicators, called lagging indicators, tend to have peaks and valleys that follow those of the GDP. Some lagging indicators are the Consumer Price Index, prime rate, business investment expenditures, or inventories on hand. The GDP can be used to predict future trends in these indicators.
Indicators are often combined quantitatively into an index. The direction of movement of all the selected indicators are weighted and combined, providing an index of overall expectation. For example, financial analysts use the Dow Jones Industrial Average as an index of general stock market performance. Indexes do not provide a complete forecast, but rather a better picture of direction of change, and thus play an important role in judgmental forecasting.