With U.S. government shut, private data providers step in

Sat Oct 5, 2013 10:24am EDT
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By Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) - When the U.S. Department of Agriculture went dark this week due to the partial government shutdown, phones lit up at commodities firm Urner Barry.

The USDA typically provides quotes on beef, pork and chicken prices, but 156-year-old New Jersey-based Urner Barry quickly became the go-to source for livestock traders searching for market quotes.

"It's certainly been more active around here," said Jim Kenny, director of business development for the firm.

Urner Barry is not alone. The shutdown has elevated the profiles of companies that sell data similar to that which the government normally provides and boosted their subscriber lists.

Market participants are scrambling to find reliable sources for information that can make a difference between profit and loss as they bring corn, beans, or cattle to market.

The shutdown is shedding light on the quality of privately-produced data and giving some providers a chance to position themselves as substitutes for the taxpayer-financed variety.

The phenomenon has affected more than just the commodities sector. Financial markets, which rely on government reports including unemployment, were adjusting to a constrained information flow this week. The shortfall put the investor spotlight on vendors such as Automatic Data Processing, which produces a private-sector version of the Bureau of Labor Statistics' monthly jobs report.

The Labor Department on Thursday delayed its employment report for September due to the shutdown and said a new release date had not yet been set.   Continued...

The U.S. Capitol is photographed behind a chain fence in Washington September 30, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque