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Discussion of Survey Changes and Comparing Estimates

Monday, July 2, 2012

Discussion of Survey Changes and Comparing Estimates

The following tables provide comparisons of the 2002, 1997, and 1993 Commodity Flow Survey (CFS) estimates.

Data users are urged to use caution in comparing estimates from different survey years due to the changes that have occurred in sample design, industry coverage, methodology, commodity classification coding systems, geography, and sample sizes. Appendix A presents change in these areas by survey year.


Changes to the 2002 CFS include moving the industry coverage from a Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) based definition in the 1997 CFS to a North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) based definition for the 2002 survey. For the 2002 CFS, this meant that selected industries previously covered in the 1997 CFS using the SIC definitions, were now out-of-scope to the 2002 CFS industry coverage based on the NAICS definitions. The major industries not covered by the 2002 CFS that were included in the 1997 CFS are Logging (NAICS 11331); Newspaper Periodical, Book, and Database Publishers (NAICS 5111); and Music Publishers (NAICS 51223).

To make the 1997 CFS estimates comparable with the 2002 CFS, the 1997 CFS estimates have been revised by removing shipments from establishments in the following industries:

SIC 2411 Logging

SIC 2711 Newspapers: Publishing, or Publishing and Printing

SIC 2721 Periodicals: Publishing, or Publishing and Printing

SIC 2731 Books: Publishing, or Publishing and Printing

SIC 2741 Miscellaneous Publishing

SIC 2771 Greeting Cards

We were not able to adjust the 1997 CFS estimates to account the NAICS coverage changes when only part of a SIC moved out-of-scope. For example, a wholesale industry in-scope to the 1997 CFS-SIC 5171 (Petroleum Bulk Stations and Terminals)-included Heating Oil Sold Via Retail Method, which is now classified as Retail (NAICS 454311) and is out-of-scope of the 2002 CFS.

The majority of the industry remains in-scope to the 2002 CFS industry coverage, therefore we made no adjustment to the 1997 CFS estimates. No adjustments have been made to the 1993 CFS estimates. Detailed information about NAICS can be found at


The 2002 CFS improved the coverage of auxiliary establishments. Auxiliary establishments are defined as warehouses and managing offices of multiestablishment companies, which have nonauxiliary establishments that are in-scope to CFS or are classified in retail trade. For the 1997 CFS sampling, managing offices had to have sales or inventory levels of greater than zero in order to be considered for selection. However, research conducted prior to the 2002 CFS showed that not all managing offices with shipping activity in the 1997 CFS indicated sales or inventories in the 1997 Economic Census. Therefore, to provide a more comprehensive coverage of auxiliaries, for the 2002 CFS managing offices were subjected to sampling, regardless of sales or inventories.


Changes from the 1997 to 2002 CFS include a decrease in sample size, from approximately 100,000 establishments for the 1997 CFS to about 50,000 establishments for the 2002 survey. One consequence of the decreased sample size was a substantial increase in the sampling variability for estimates of period-to-period change produced at full detail levels for mode and commodity. Because of the increased variability in many of these categories, one cannot conclude with a high degree of confidence that changes were significant. For a more detailed discussion of sampling variability, see Appendix B. We have provided period-to-period comparisons at the following, higher levels of aggregation for mode of transportation and commodity since the impact of increased sampling variability is less at those levels. For consistency, these aggregation levels are also now used in our Metropolitan Area and Export tables, where appropriate.