Analyzing Economic and Business Trends Through Lagging Indicators


Lagging indicators are measurable factors that change after economic, financial, or business variables they correlate with have already changed. They provide crucial insights into past trends, making them valuable in economic analysis, business strategy, and financial market decisions.

Understanding lagging indicators

Lagging indicators are a fundamental component of economic analysis, business strategy, and financial market decision-making. They play a crucial role in assessing the aftermath of significant changes in various domains. Unlike leading indicators, which attempt to predict future trends, lagging indicators serve as confirmation tools, offering valuable retrospective insights.

Examining lagging indicators is akin to looking in the rearview mirror of an economic or business landscape. They allow us to validate whether a substantial shift in the economy, a business’s performance, or a financial market has indeed taken place. In this article, we delve deeper into the concept of lagging indicators, their types, and their significance in different contexts.

Economic lagging indicators

Economic lagging indicators are pivotal for assessing the overall health of an economy. They encompass a range of metrics, each providing unique insights into past economic conditions. These indicators are often reported by government agencies and serve as vital reference points for economists, policymakers, and investors. Some prominent economic lagging indicators include:

  • The unemployment rate:

The unemployment rate is a quintessential lagging indicator. It quantifies the percentage of the workforce that is unemployed and actively seeking employment. A rising unemployment rate typically indicates economic distress or recession, but this information becomes evident only after the fact.

  • Corporate profits:

Corporate profits, while essential for businesses, also serve as lagging indicators. They reflect a company’s financial performance over a specific period, such as a quarter or a year. A decline in corporate profits can be a lagging signal of economic troubles, as it might suggest reduced consumer spending and economic downturns.

  • Labor cost per unit of output:

Labor cost per unit of output is a measure of how efficiently labor is being utilized in production. When labor costs rise relative to output, it can indicate inflationary pressures or reduced productivity, which might have already impacted the economy by the time the data becomes available.

  • Interest rates:

Interest rates, set by central banks, have a significant impact on economic activity. Changes in interest rates can stimulate or cool down borrowing, spending, and investment. However, the effects of interest rate changes on the economy take time to materialize, making interest rates a classic example of lagging indicators.

  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP):

Gross Domestic Product is a comprehensive measure of an economy’s total output of goods and services. It is typically reported quarterly and provides a retrospective view of economic performance. A shrinking GDP over consecutive quarters often confirms the occurrence of a recession.

  • Consumer Price Index (CPI):

The Consumer Price Index measures changes in the prices of a basket of goods and services over time. Rising CPI indicates inflation, which, when persistent, can negatively affect consumer purchasing power. This, in turn, can impact the broader economy.

  • Balance of Trade (BOT):

The balance of trade tracks the difference between a country’s exports and imports. It can indicate whether a country is running a trade surplus or deficit. Shifts in the balance of trade can signal changes in a nation’s economic competitiveness, but these shifts are typically observed in hindsight.

Economic lagging indicators, as the name suggests, confirm past economic conditions and trends. They differ from leading indicators, such as retail sales and stock market performance, which aim to predict future economic trends. While they may not provide real-time insights, economic lagging indicators offer the benefit of reliability and stability in economic analysis.

Business lagging indicators

In the realm of business, lagging indicators are often referred to as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). These metrics gauge a company’s performance retrospectively, offering a view of how well the business has executed its strategies and operations over a specific period. While businesses strive to influence these indicators positively, they can be challenging to change directly because they result from past decisions and actions.

Some typical business lagging indicators or KPIs include:

  • Sales:

Sales figures are a primary lagging indicator for businesses. They reflect the actual revenue generated from the sale of products or services. An increase in sales may indicate successful marketing efforts, but it is only evident after customers have made their purchases.

  • Customer satisfaction:

Customer satisfaction scores provide insights into how well a company has met its customers’ needs and expectations. While improving customer satisfaction is a strategic goal for many businesses, measuring it is a retrospective exercise, based on feedback received after customer interactions.

  • Revenue churn:

Revenue churn, primarily in subscription-based businesses, measures the loss of revenue due to customer cancellations or downgrades. A high revenue churn rate indicates customer attrition, which has already impacted the company’s financial performance.

Businesses often use business intelligence tools and dashboards to track and compare leading and lagging indicators. For example, while customer satisfaction is a lagging indicator, tracking leading indicators such as customer engagement and employee satisfaction can help businesses take proactive measures to improve their performance.

Technical lagging indicators

In financial markets, technical lagging indicators are instrumental in assessing price movements and confirming trends. These indicators follow the current price of an asset and are particularly useful for traders and investors looking to make informed decisions.

One common example of a technical lagging indicator is the moving average. A moving average calculates the average price of an asset over a specified period. Traders often use moving averages to identify trends and potential entry or exit points. For instance, a short-term moving average crossing above a long-term moving average can signal a shift in momentum, but this confirmation occurs after the price move has already happened.

Technical lagging indicators are advantageous because they provide a sense of stability and reliability in analyzing price trends. However, a drawback is their potential to confirm a trend after a significant price move has already occurred, potentially resulting in delayed entry into a trading position.

Similar technical approaches can also be applied to economic indicators as lagging indicators to confirm changes in economic trends. This crossover between technical analysis and economic analysis demonstrates the versatility and applicability of lagging indicators in various contexts.

Weigh the Risks and Benefits

Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks of lagging indicators:

  • Provide confirmation of past trends
  • Offer stability and reliability in analysis
  • Useful for long-term economic assessments
  • Can be a valuable tool for investors and traders
  • Do not predict future trends
  • May lag behind rapidly changing situations
  • Can result in late market entry in trading


In conclusion, lagging indicators are indispensable tools in the realms of economics, business, and finance. They serve as historical reference points, offering valuable insights into past trends and conditions. While they do not predict future developments, their stability and reliability make them essential for long-term assessments, strategic decision-making, and investment strategies. By understanding and effectively utilizing lagging indicators, individuals, businesses, and investors can gain a deeper understanding of the ever-changing landscape in which they operate.

Frequently asked questions

What are some real-world examples of economic lagging indicators?

Economic lagging indicators include the unemployment rate, corporate profits, labor cost per unit of output, interest rates, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Consumer Price Index (CPI), and the Balance of Trade (BOT). These metrics reflect past economic conditions and provide insights into economic health.

How do businesses use lagging indicators in performance evaluation?

Businesses use lagging indicators, such as sales, customer satisfaction, and revenue churn, as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to measure past performance. These indicators reflect the results of previous decisions and operations, offering insights into business strategies and management effectiveness.

Can lagging indicators be used for short-term analysis?

Lagging indicators are typically better suited for long-term analysis because they confirm historical trends. Short-term fluctuations may not be accurately captured by lagging indicators, making them less effective for short-term analysis.

What is the significance of technical lagging indicators in financial markets?

Technical lagging indicators, such as moving averages and the Relative Strength Index (RSI), play a crucial role in confirming price trends in financial markets. Traders use them to assess the momentum of an asset’s price movement. However, traders should be cautious as these indicators may confirm trends after significant price moves have already occurred.

How can businesses use leading indicators to improve lagging indicators?

Businesses can use leading indicators, such as customer engagement and employee satisfaction, to influence and improve lagging indicators like sales and customer satisfaction. By tracking leading indicators closely, businesses can make strategic adjustments to positively impact their lagging indicators over time.

What are some potential drawbacks of relying on lagging indicators?

One drawback is that lagging indicators do not predict future trends, so they may not provide early warnings of significant shifts. Additionally, they may lag behind rapidly changing situations, making them less effective for making timely decisions in dynamic environments.

Where can I find more information about lagging indicators?

You can find additional information about lagging indicators from reputable sources such as financial news websites, economic research institutions, and educational resources. Some sources may provide in-depth analysis and historical data on various lagging indicators.

Key takeaways

  • Lagging indicators confirm past economic, business, or financial trends.
  • They do not predict future trends but offer stability and reliability.
  • Examples include unemployment rates, corporate profits, and moving averages in financial markets.
View article sources
  1. Lagging Indicators – U.S. Conference Board
  2. Leading vs lagging indicators | Metrics and KPIs – Geckoboard
  3. Leading vs. Lagging Indicators –