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New Questions on How a Key Agency Shared Inflation Data

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shared more information about inflation with Wall Street “super users” than previously disclosed, emails from the agency show. The revelation is likely to prompt further scrutiny of the way the government shares economic data at a time when such information keenly interests investors.

An economist at the agency set off a firestorm in February when he sent an email to a group of data users explaining how a methodological tweak could have contributed to an unexpected jump in housing costs in the Consumer Price Index the previous month. The email, addressed to “Super Users,” circulated rapidly around Wall Street, where every detail of inflation data can affect the bond market.

At the time, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said the email had been an isolated “mistake” and denied that it maintained a list of users who received special access to information.

But emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show that the agency — or at least the economist who sent the original email, a longtime but relatively low-ranking employee — was in regular communication with data users in the finance industry, apparently including analysts at major hedge funds. And they suggest that there was a list of super users, contrary to the agency’s denials.

“Would it be possible to be on the super user email list?” one user asked in mid-February.

“Yes I can add you to the list,” the employee replied minutes later.

A reporter’s efforts to reach the employee, whose identity the bureau confirmed, were unsuccessful.

Emily Liddel, an associate commissioner at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, said that the agency did not maintain an official list of super users and that the employee appeared to have created the list on his own.

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