By: MARK SKOUSEN
Washington, DC (Wednesday, July 26, 2017): Gross output (GO), the top line of national accounting that measures spending at all stages of production, continued to increase much faster than GDP in the first quarter 2017, indicating a continued strong economy for 2017. Mark Skousen, editor of Forecasts & Strategies and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University, states, “First quarter GO suggests that a robust economy, despite a slowdown in GDP.”
Based on data released on Friday, July 21, 2017 by the BEA and adjusted to include all sales throughout the production process, nominal adjusted GO (GO*) increased at an annualized rate of 6.0% in the first quarter of 2017, which is just slightly lower than the previous quarter’s increase of 6.2%. Nominal adjusted GO for the first quarter of 2017 increased substantially faster than 3.3% GDP growth and faster than the 5.6% growth of the unadjusted GO reported by the BEA.
Real GDP, the bottom line of national income accounting, rose at an annualized rate of 1.4% in the first quarter 2017. Real GO* continues to grow much faster at a 2.5% rate.
Skousen states, “By focusing solely on final spending and the end of the economic chain, GDP can sometimes be a misleading indicator of economic performance. GO is a much better, more comprehensive view of total economic activity along the entire supply chain, and indicates a much more positive outlook.”
Moreover, according to a recent study by David Ranson, chief economist at HCWE & Co., GO anticipates changes in GDP by as much as 12 weeks in advance and thus serves as a reliable leading indicator: http://www.hcwe.com/guest/EW-0717.pdf
The Skousen B2B Index, a measure of business spending throughout the supply chain, continued growing at a brisk pace in the first quarter 2017. This continued growth indicates a sustained business activity recovery that started in the fourth quarter 2016 following the November presidential election of Donald Trump and continued through the first quarter of President Trump’s administration. In the first quarter, B2B transactions rose at an annual rate of 6.6% in nominal terms or 3.12% in real terms. Over the past two quarters – Q4 2016 and Q1 2017 – business spending increased a total of 15%. Last time that the Skousen B2B Index showed a business spending growth of 15% or more over two quarters was in the beginning of 2014.
After breaking the $40 trillion mark for the first time in the previous quarter, adjusted GO rose to $41.2 trillion and reached another first by exceeding the $41 trillion mark in the first quarter 2017. The current adj. GO is more than double the size of GDP ($19 trillion), which measures final output only.
The overall growth of GO resulted from the growth of almost all individual industries and sectors – especially industries in the early stages of production. Increased spending in the early stages, which tend to be leading economic indicators, is a good indication that the overall economy should continue expanding over the next few quarters.
Supply Chain Activity Continues Increasing
Out of the 29 Industries and sectors defined within GO, 26 sectors rose compared to the previous quarter. The mining sector followed a 30.2% annualized growth in the fourth quarter 2016 with a 62.7% boost in the first quarter 2017. However, the mining sector accounts for just 1% share of total GO, which diminishes the impact of this large increase on the overall GO. On the contrary, the manufacturing sector is almost a fifth of total GO (18% share). Therefore, the 6.3% annualized growth of the manufacturing sector has a much greater positive impact on the total GO. With a 9.6% annualized growth rate, non-durable goods outpaced durable goods, which rose at 4%.
Another sector with an 18% share of GO is the finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing sector. In the first quarter, this sector grew at a 6.7% annualized rate in nominal terms, which is 71% higher than the 4% increase in the fourth quarter 2016. The real estate, rental and leasing subsector, which accounts for 11.4% of total GO by itself, rose 5.6%
Compared to the previous quarter, spending fell in only three sectors. The largest drop of 12.7% is in the utilities sector. The arts, entertainment & recreation sector is down 3.6% and management of companies and enterprises fell 1.8%. However, these three sectors combined account for just 4.1% share of the total GO. Therefore, the negative performance of these few sectors could not dampen the continued growth of the GO overall.
Total government spending (11% share of total GO) increased 3% in the first quarter. While that growth rate is not particularly high, it is 50% higher than the previous quarter’s growth rate of 2%. The federal government grew at an annualized rate of only 0.5% in nominal terms and state and local government grew at a significantly higher rate of 4.1%.
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 faster than GDP is a positive sign.
Business Spending (B2B) Grows Faster Than Consumer Spending
We have also created a new business-to-business (B2B) index based on GO data. It measures all the business spending in the supply chain and new private capital investment. Nominal B2B activity increased 7.7% to $23.75 trillion. Meanwhile, consumer spending rose to $13.1 trillion in the first quarter, which is equivalent to a 3.4% annualized growth rate. In real terms, B2B activity rose at an annualized rate of 4.2% and consumer spending rose 1.5%.
“B2B spending is in fact a pretty good indicator of where the economy is headed, since it measures spending in the entire supply chain,” stated Skousen. “There is no doubt that business activity has picked up in expectation of pro-business legislation in 2017.”
About GO and B2B Index
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.
The BEA now defines GDP in terms of GO. GDP is defined as “the value of the goods and services produced by the nation’s economy [GO] less the value of the goods and services used up in production (Intermediate Inputs or II].” See definitions at https://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/industry/gdpindustry/gdpindnewsrelease.htm
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 that 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 Economic Measure” lead editorial, Wall Street Journal, April 23, 2014: https://www.wsj.com/articles/mark-skousen-at-last-a-better-economic-measure-1398209717
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
David Ranson, “Output growth data that the economy generates months earlier than GDP,” Economic Watch, July 24, 2017. HCWE, Inc. http://www.hcwe.com/guest/EW-0717.pdf
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
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 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 2017 1st quarter is $33.3 trillion. By including gross sales at the wholesale and retail level, the adjusted GO is $41.2 trillion in Q1 2017. Thus, the BEA omits $7.9 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.