Move Over GDP: Italy's Statistics Office Checks People's Mood

(Bloomberg) -- Italy’s economy hasn’t been faring well lately, and the country isn’t happy about it if the mood on social media is any guide.

The country’s statistics office has an experimental index based on Twitter posts, and says the measure has taken a dramatic turn lower since late last year. The “Social Mood on Economy” gauge was relatively steady through mid-2018, then “waxed and waned” before it “sharply decreased at the beginning of December.”

Move Over GDP: Italy's Statistics Office Checks People's Mood

The drop is little surprise, given that the economy has contracted for two straight quarters and the European Commission forecasts that it may barely grow at all this year. The past year was a rocky one for the nation, with a controversial budget that sent sovereign borrowing costs higher, damaged sentiment and sparked a clash with the EU.

“The mood highlighted by the Twitter users across the nation seems to be consistent at least in the short term with the broad economic trend,” Roberto Monducci, a director at Rome-based Istat, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

Istat creates the index by collecting and processing tweets that include at least one of a number of specific keywords. On average, the program runs its sentiment analysis on about 50,000 tweets per day.

Economists occasionally point to the shortcomings of traditional data such as GDP in trying to determine how a country is really faring, and countries are experimenting. The U.K. has a measure of “personal and economic well-being,” while the Himalayan nation of Bhutan is known for its Gross National Happiness measure.

The next update of Italy’s index is scheduled for April and will cover the first three months of 2019. Monducci declined to comment on what the current trend of the index is signaling.

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