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Slow reboot for government economic data

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Even as Wall Street breathed a sigh of relief on Thursday that the risk of a government default was off the table for now, attention immediately turned to a critical, if more quotidian, matter for traders: when will federal number crunchers be providing data on the economy again?

The short answer is not quickly.

While some reports — like unemployment figures for September — were close to being completed when federal agencies shut down on Oct. 1, economists and experts both inside and outside the government do not expect the delayed data to come out until next week at the earliest.

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As statistician\s and economists huddled Thursday morning at agencies like the Bureau of Labor Statistics, along with the Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis and its Census Bureau, to assess the situation, officials said that even the timing of some future data releases would not be determined this week.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis had originally been scheduled to report its first estimate of economic growth for the third quarter on Oct. 30.

"We are talking to our sister statistical agencies and we hope to come up with a new release schedule as soon as possible," said Jeannine Aversa, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Economic Analysis. "We hope to have more information next week."

The statistics aren't just of interest to economists and numbers geeks.

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Most of the time, or at least in the absence of cliffhangers like the drama over the government shutdown and debt ceiling deadline, Wall Street zigs and zags with each new reading on trends like unemployment, economic growth and inflation.

The unemployment data are being watched especially closely right now because the Federal Reserve has said any decision on whether to ease back on stimulus efforts depends on continuing improvement in the labor market.

And without information from the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics, no one knows if that is happening. As a result of the delayed data, as well as the economic fallout from the shutdown itself, most experts don't expect any Fed tapering to begin until December or possibly not till early 2014.

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Before the government closed down on Tuesday, Oct. 1, the Bureau of Labor Statistics had been planning to release the September jobs data that same week, on Friday, Oct. 4.

The monthly unemployment report is based on two separate surveys, one of businesses, the other of households, so compiling the finished report is a time-consuming process, economists said.

Omair Sharif, senior United States economist at RBS, estimates the report for September won't be out before next Tuesday, Oct. 22, at the earliest, since statisticians still need to finalize the results from the survey of businesses, which are used to compute the bureau's estimate of how many jobs the economy added or lost in a given month.

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The household survey, used to determine the unemployment rate, was most likely finished before the shutdown, Mr. Sharif said.

The unemployment report for October, originally due out Nov. 1, could also be delayed. The household survey for October, conducted by the Census Bureau, was due to take place this week, while the survey of businesses was supposed to have been sent out last week with responses tabulated in the second half of October.

Right now, experts on Wall Street are debating whether the Bureau of Labor Statistics will wait until next Friday to release the September report, the traditional day for jobs numbers to come out, or announce it earlier in the week.

That agency's officials declined to comment but Mr. Sharif said he did not expect them to wait until Oct. 26. "I don't see why they'd sit on it till Friday," he said. "You want to get that number out. They're already a couple of weeks behind."

—By Nelson D. Schwartz, New York Times