Numbers game

Numbers game

Longtime readers of The Journal of Commerce recall when we were a daily newspaper and published pages of Shipcard advertisements and news of commodities - not just oil and pork bellies, but linseed oil and things you never heard of.

Commodities were central to JoC coverage for decades. The Journal of Commerce has often been referred to as the Bible of the maritime industry. For much of its history, it also could have been described as the Daily Racing Form of the commodities business.

Well into the 1990s, the newspaper had daily news sections that detailed the ups and downs of the materials used in industrial production. People used to say that God must have loved The Journal of Commerce, otherwise He would not have invented commodities trading.

But times change, and eventually, the commodity prices on which we enjoyed a monopoly became, well, a commodity. They became widely available electronically, and eventually on the Internet. The Journal of Commerce responded by concentrating its attention on international transportation, logistics and trade.

Though we no longer carry daily prices of hides and woolen yarn, two vestiges of our commodity coverage survive. One is the daily Oil Price Daily, which we continue to supply online to subscribers who follow heating oil prices. The other is The Journal of Commerce-Economic Cycle Research Institute Industrial Price Index, based on daily prices of 18 commodities used in industrial production.

Senior Editor Peter Leach, who describes The JoC-ECRI index in this week's magazine, played a role in its creation. When he became editor of The Journal of Commerce in 1978, he began to re-examine what had become a hodgepodge of commodities data to determine what was most useful to readers.

One feature that had a particularly wide following was the JoC's commodity price index, but it needed updating. The index was based on 1967 prices of a variety of commodity prices. Leach asked Albert Kraus, who had come to the JoC from the New York Times and American Banker, to take on the job. It turned out to be a major project that wasn't completed until years later, after Leach had moved on to the Philadelphia Inquirer and Kraus had become JoC editor.

In the mid-1980s, Kraus approached economist Geoffrey Moore to put together a new index. The result was the JoC-ECRI Industrial Price Index, which has become known as an early indicator of the direction of manufacturing prices and inflation.

We publish data from the JoC-ECRI index, along with other statistics, each week on our "By The Numbers" page. We're always looking for ways to make our statistical information more useful and interesting. If you have suggestions, please call or e-mail me.