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Yelp launched an index that tracks consumer demand and the health of businesses on its platform and the company says the activity of its millions of users is raising red flags about the health of the economy.

Expand chart
Reproduced from a Yelp chart; Chart: Axios Visuals

The big picture: Yelp is the latest to leverage access to the users and businesses on its platform to glean trends about the national economy, following LinkedIn. It comes at a time when there is broad concern about a coming economic slowdown and key retail sales data was delayed in light of the government shutdown.

How it works: The Yelp Economic Average measures how much users are engaging with — i.e. reserving a table, joining a waiting list, or requesting a quote on the site— retail, restaurants and service companies on its site or mobile app.

  • The index averages the overall "scores" of engagement along with business survival, or the openings and closings of stores.
  • Yelp said it measured its chosen businesses against a basket of other predetermined categories — much like CPI — to adjust for seasonality, the presence of more businesses on its platform.

Inside the report:

  • The Yelp Economic Average, or YEA, dropped to 98.5 in the fourth quarter from 100.7 in the third quarter. (All averages are relative to Q4 of 2016, when the score was set to 100.)
  • Yelp said only one of the 30 business sectors — which include everything from grocery stores to personal injury law firms — saw its score rise from the Q3: gas stations. (Perhaps a nod to lower gas pries seen in the fourth quarter).
  • The overall shopping category, which includes appliance shops, computer stores and sporting goods, fared the worst in Q4, though those brick-and-mortar retailers had already been in steady decline.
  • Other discretionary categories saw a pullback too: art galleries, antique shops and gardening stores saw quarter-over-quarter declines of 2% or more.

Yes, but: There's not much history to know whether or not a sharp moves in Yelp's index says more about Yelp itself rather than the broader economy.

  • Yelp's index declined in late 2017, but the economy actually grew at a faster pace than economists anticipated.

Go deeper

1 hour ago - Technology

Scoop: Facebook exec warns of "more bad headlines"

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

In a post to staffers Saturday obtained by Axios, Facebook VP of global affairs Nick Clegg warned the company that worse coverage could be on the way: “We need to steel ourselves for more bad headlines in the coming days, I’m afraid.”

Catch up quick: Roughly two dozen news outlets had agreed to hold stories based on leaked materials from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen for Monday publication — but the embargo fell apart Friday night as participating newsrooms posted a batch of articles ahead of the weekend.

"Atmospheric river" to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood

A map depicting 24-hour preciptation forecast (inches) ending Monday at 5a.m. local time. Photo: NOAA

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are set dump historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is predicted to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.

Inside Biden's Taiwan flubs

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Twice this year, President Biden has blurted out commitments that the U.S. is prepared to defend Taiwan against a Chinese invasion — forcing the White House to walk back his statements and leading to confusion over a high-stakes national security policy.

Why it matters: U.S. defense officials have publicly aired their concerns that China will take Taiwan by force in the next four to six years, perhaps sooner. The president's position on this question may soon have real-world, life and death consequences.