THE ECONOMY IS BACK ON TRACK: THIRD QUARTER GROSS OUTPUT AND B2B INDEX SHOW ROBUST GROWTH

By: Mark Skousen

Washington, DC (Thursday, January 19, 2017):  Gross output (GO), the top line of national income accounting, increased at a 4.6% annualized rate in the third quarter of 2016, according to data released today by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.  Adjusted GO reached almost $40 trillion ($39.8 trillion) in the 3rd quarter 2016.

It is a second consecutive quarterly increase, indicating a sustained recovery as we enter 2017.  Moreover, almost all of the industries, including the early stages of production, showed positive performance.

The Skousen business-to-business (B2B) Index, a measure of business spending throughout the supply chain, also increased for the second quarter in a row, after showing a decline of three consecutive quarters reversed in Q2 2016.  The B2B Index change versus the prior quarter, in nominal terms, is an annualized 3.4%.

Based on data released by the BEA today and adjusted to include all sales throughout the production process, nominal adjusted GO increased 4.6% in the 3rd quarter of 2016, matches the same increase from the 2nd quarter of 2016[1].  Adjusted GO reached almost $40 trillion ($39.8 trillion) in the 3rd quarter, more than double the size of GDP ($18.65 trillion), which measures final output only.  Nominal GDP, the bottom line of national income accounting, rose at a 4.4% annualized rate.

Supply chain activity varied among various sectors significantly in the 3rd quarter, but was mostly positive, especially in the early-stages of production.  Mining activity reversed two quarters of double-digit declines and increased 22% in Q3 2016.  Utilities managed a 25% annualized increase in the third quarter.  The construction sector showed a minor Q3 increase of 2.6%.  However, that is significantly better than the 7.5% decline in the second quarter.

While the manufacturing sector increased only 3.7%, it was a major contributor to positive results in Q3 because the manufacturing sector accounted for an 18% share of total GO.  With a 6.9% increase and a 7% share of total GO, the finance and insurance sector was another significant contributor to overall growth.

The information sector reversed course again and increased 8.1% after a 2.3% decline of in Q2.

Professional and business services sector made a positive contribution and increased 4.4%, improving on the 3.6% growth rate from Q2.  After increasing at 7.5% in Q1 and almost 10% in Q2 the Health care and social sciences sector reversed course and declined slightly by 0.4%

While the Retail sector’s increase improved on previous quarter’s performance (3.5% in Q3 vs. 1.75% in Q2), the Wholesale sector rose almost 4% reversing the 1.80% decline from the previous quarter.  The positive contribution by the wholesale sector is another indicator that spending in early stages is improving.

Government spending (11% share of total GO) increased 4%, with federal spending growing a bit less (3.4%) than local government, which grew by 4.2%.

2017-Q3-GO_and_B2B_1

Gross output (GO) and GDP are complementary statistics in national income accounting.  GO is an attempt to measure the “make” economy; i.e., total economic activity at all stages of production, similar to the “top line” (revenues/sales) of a financial accounting statement.  In April 2014, the BEA began to measure GO on a quarterly basis along with GDP.

Gross domestic product (GDP) is an attempt to measure the “use” economy, i.e., the value of finished goods and services ready to be used by consumers, business and government.  GDP is similar to the “bottom line” (gross profits) of an accounting statement, which determined the “value added” or the value of final use.

GO tends to be more sensitive to the business cycle, and more volatile, than GDP. During the financial crisis of 2008-09, GO fell much faster than GDP, and afterwards, recovered more quickly than GDP. Still, it wasn’t until late 2013 that GO fully recovered from its peak in 2007. The fact that the adjusted GO continued to grow is a positive sign.

Real Business Spending (B2B) Shows Strong Growth

We also have created a new business-to-business (B2B) index based on GO data.  It measures all of the business spending in the supply chain and new private capital investment.  Nominal B2B activity increased at an annualized rate of 3.4% compared to the previous quarter to reach $22.7 trillion.  Meanwhile, consumer spending rose at an annualized rate of 3.6% to $12.8 trillion in Q3 2016.

2017-Q3-GO_and_B2B_2

“The GO data and my own B2B Index demonstrate that total US economic activity is expanding robustly,” stated Mark Skousen, editor of Forecasts & Strategies and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University.  “B2B spending is in fact a pretty good indicator of where the economy is heading, since it measures spending in the entire supply chain, and it indicates balanced growth at this stage.”

Skousen champions Gross Output as a more comprehensive measure of economic activity. “GDP leaves out the supply chain and business to business transactions in the production of intermediate inputs,” he notes. “That’s a big part of the economy.  GO includes B2B activity that is vital to the production process. No one should ignore what is going on in the supply chain of the economy.”

Skousen first introduced Gross Output as a macroeconomic tool in his work The Structure of Production (New York University Press, 1990). A new third edition was published in late 2015, and is now available on Amazon.

Click here: Structure of Production on Amazon

The BEA’s decision in 2014 to publish GO on a quarterly basis in its “GDP by Industry” data is a major achievement in national income accounting. GO is the first output statistic to be published on a quarterly basis since GDP was invented in the 1940s.  With GO and GDP being produced on a timely basis, the federal government now offers a complete system of accounts. As Dale Jorgenson, Steve Landefeld, and William Nordhaus conclude in their book, A New Architecture for the U. S. National Accounts, “Gross output [GO] is the natural measure of the production sector, while net output [GDP] is appropriate as a measure of welfare. Both are required in a complete system of accounts.”

Skousen adds, “Gross Output and GDP are complementary aspects of the economy, but GO does a better job of measuring total economic activity and the business cycle, and demonstrates that business spending is more significant than consumer spending,” he says. “By using GO data, we see that consumer spending is actually only about a third of economic activity, not two-thirds, which is often reported by the media. As the chart above demonstrates, business spending is in fact almost twice the size of consumer spending in the US economy.”

Note: Ned Piplovic assisted in providing technical data for this release.

For More Information

The GO data released by the BEA can be found at www.bea.gov under “Quarterly GDP by Industry.” Click on interactive tables “GDP by Industry” and go to “Gross Output by Industry.” Or go to this link directly: http://www.bea.gov/iTable/iTable.cfm?ReqID=51&step=1#reqid=51&step=3&isuri=1&5102=15

For more information on Gross Output (GO), the Skousen B2B Index, and their relationship to GDP, see the following: Mark Skousen, “At Last, a Better Way to Economic Measure” lead editorial, Wall Street Journal, April 23, 2014: http://on.wsj.com/PsdoLM

Steve Forbes, Forbes Magazine (April 14, 2014): “New, Revolutionary Way To Measure The Economy Is Coming — Believe Me, This Is A Big Deal”: http://www.forbes.com/sites/steveforbes/2014/03/26/this-may-save-the-economoy-from-keynesians-and-spend-happy-pols/

Mark Skousen, Forbes Magazine (December 16, 2013): “Beyond GDP: Get Ready For A New Way To Measure The Economy”:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2013/11/29/beyond-gdp-get-ready-for-a-new-way-to-measure-the-economy/

Steve Hanke, Globe Asia (July 2014): “GO: J. M. Keynes Versus J.-B. Say,” http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/go-jm-keynes-versus-j-b-say

New:  Mark Skousen, “Linking Austrian Economics to Keynesian Economics,” Journal of Private Enterprise, Winter, 2015:  http://journal.apee.org/index.php?title=Parte7_Journal_of_Private_Enterprise_vol_30_no_4.pdf

To interview Dr. Mark Skousen on this press release, contact him at mskousen@chapman.edu, or Ned Piplovic, Media Relations at skousenpub@gmail.com.

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[1] The BEA currently uses a limited measure of total sales of goods and services in the production process. Once products are fabricated and packaged at the manufacturing stage, the BEA’s GO only adds “net” sales at the wholesale and retail level. Its official GO for the 2016 3rd quarter is $32.4 trillion.  By including gross sales at the wholesale and retail level, the adjusted GO is $39.8 trillion in Q3 2016.  Thus, the BEA omits $7.5 trillion in business-to-business (B2B) transactions in its GO statistics.  We include them as a legitimate economic activity that should be accounted for in GO, which we call Adjusted GO.  See the new introduction to Mark Skousen, The Structure of Production, 3rd ed. (New York University Press, 2015), pp. xv-xvi.

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