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What St. Louisan’s recent Google searches say about the economy

22 June 2020

(St, Louis Business Journal)

June 22,2020 (Lea Konczal)

These days, it’s not hard to find depressing news about the economy. But St. Louisans are optimistic – at least, based on their Google searches.

Metro area searches for phrases like “new car,” “vacation” and “homes for sales” are up significantly since hitting lows in March and April.

“(These searches) are telling us that consumers are growing more and more comfortable with resuming their more typical daily lives,” said Argent Capital Management analyst and trader Ward Brown in a video to clients. He said one reason the economy and stock market are diverging is because the stock market factors in people’s expectations for a quick recovery. Brown uses Google Trends to gauge some of those expectations.

“Markets often hinge on tidings of better or worse, rather than the raw numbers,” Brown said. “Google has a lot of interesting data.”

Nationally, searches have increased for terms such as “new car,” “homes for sale,” “vacations” and even “knee replacements,” he said. “Ford F-150” searches are up too, which Brown said is a barometer for trends in construction activity.

For the week of June 14-20, St. Louis-area searches for “Ford F-150” were at a 12-month high. Interest in the search term is up more than 500% since a 12-month low the week of April 26- May 2.

Local searches for new and used cars have also increased, likely because dealerships across the nation are trying to lure customers back with special deals.

St. Louisans are also looking into home buying. Interest in “homes for sale” hit a 12-month high this week, and related searches such as “buy home” and “real estate agent” are also up. (So are searches for “sell my home.”) With national home sales down significantly in April and home prices expected to fall, people appear to be hunting for good deals.

A range of other searches indicate St. Louisans are more than ready to resume leisure spending, as well as essential spending they put off in the past few months. “Surgery” searches, for example, are on their way back to pre-pandemic levels. On the leisure side, interest in “vacation” has steadily increased to slightly surpass the level of interest this time last year. Other leisure spending searches like “mall,” “spa” and “salon” are up since the end of April.

Brown said that despite the current economic woes and ongoing COVID-19 fears, the effects of optimistic consumer sentiments and the stock market should not be discounted.

“There is no question at some point investor attention will shift to absolute data – revenues, earnings, investment in research and development – that are needed to support the ‘world is getting better’ narrative,” Brown said. “But for now, even if earnings are declining in the short term, ‘getting better’ is enough.”