Washington, DC (Tuesday, December 22, 2020): On December 22, 2020, the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) announced that gross output (GO) – the most comprehensive measure of total spending in the economy, including the supply chain – rose dramatically in the 3rd quarter 2020.
In the aftermath of a sharp economic decline reported in the second quarter 2020, Gross Output reversed its downtrend over the past two periods and soared in the third quarter 2020. While still not recovered fully to its past highs, third-quarter 2020 Gross Output rebounded to within 2.8% of its level one year ago. This rapid rebound offers supporting evidence that we might indeed see a brisk v-shaped recovery of the economy supported by positive news on new vaccines availability as we enter 2021.
During past recessions, GO generally declined significantly more than GDP. In the fourth-quarter 2008 GO dropped more than 26% while GDP declined less than 8%. Alternatively, GO also bounced back at faster rate than the GDP during past recoveries. However, the 2020 economic slowdown does not follow the same pattern. Rather than dropping significantly more than the GDP, GO has maintained decline rates parallel with the GDP.
This break from historical recession patterns suggests that business and supply chain spending has remained relatively robust during this economic pullback. Therefore, third quarter economic rebound indicates strong economic fundamentals that could support rapid recovery as soon as economic shutdowns are lifted with widespread availability of vaccinations.
More importantly, business spending outpaced consumer spending during the third quarter.
Business – Not Consumers – Drives the Economy
Contrary to views of many academic economists and wide-spread media reports, consumer spending does not drive the economy, and does not represent two-thirds of the economy. Using GO as a better and a more accurate measure of total spending in the economy, the business sector (B2B spending) is almost twice the size of consumer spending. Consumer spending is the effect, not the cause, of prosperity (Say’s law).
Therefore, our business-to-business (B2B) index is very useful for gauging the economy’s underlying health and the readiness to rebound after economic downturns. The B2B Index measures all the business spending in the supply chain and new private capital investment. In the third quarter, nominal B2B activity soared nearly 43% to $25.7 trillion. At the same time, consumer spending grew less than 40% on an annualized basis to $14.4 trillion. In real terms, B2B activity expanded at an annualized rate of 39% to $22.6 trillion and consumer spending reached $13 trillion after expanding 34.5%.
“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. “After declining 5.4% and 44% in the first and second quarters, respectively, business activity expanded at an annualized rate of 39% in real terms in the third quarter 2020.
GO Increase Outpaces GDP Growth in Third Quarter to Indicate Potentially Accelerated Economic Recovery
Gross Output suffered significant declines in the first two quarters of this year. However, prior to these pullbacks, GO increased steadily for 42 consecutive quarters. Even before the pandemic and government shutdowns in early 2020, GO began to show weaker growth in late 2019 falling from nearly 2.5% in the third-quarter 2019 to just 1.1% in the final period of last year.
However, GO growth in the third quarter could set the tone for the overall direction of the economy going into next year. GO is a leading indicator of what GDP will do in the next quarter and beyond. As David Ranson, chief economist for the private forecasting firm HCWE & Co., states, “Movements in gross output serve as a leading indicator of movements in GDP.”
After the first-half 2020 pullback, both GDP and GO roared back in the third quarter. However, with a third-quarter annualized growth rate of nearly 40%, Adjusted Gross Output (GO*) outpaced the 33.8 % GDP growth rate in the same period by more than 6%. In real terms, the variance between the growth rates of 30.6% for GO* and 29.9% for GDP was slightly lower at 2.3%.
The federal government will release the fourth-quarter and full-year 2020 advance estimate for GDP of for on January 28, 2021 and the full release of Gross Output and third estimate of GDP on March 25, 2021.
Important Note: We are hopeful that in the near future, the BEA will release GO at the same time as the first estimate of GDP for the quarter, not the third estimate.
Report on Various Sectors of the Economy
After two periods of contraction, all major sectors of the economy expanded in the third quarter 2020. All but one if the 21 sectors expanded at double-digit percentages.
The mining sector delivered a significant expansion of 56% after contracting 35% in the previous period. However, while important to the economy as an early stage of production, the Mining sector accounts for only 1% of the overall GO and does not contribute to the overall GO as much as some of the larger sectors.
After contracting for four consecutive quarters, the Manufacturing segment expanded 51% in the third quarter. However, since manufacturing is the second largest segment and accounts for 16% of GO, its impact on the overall growth of the overall GO is substantially higher than that of the Mining sector.
Furthermore, another indication of the economy’s strong fundamentals and a positive outlook for continued growth is that the Durable goods sub-segment, which has a larger impact on long-term economic expansion, grew nearly 74%. At the same time, the Nondurable goods sub-segment expanded 27.6%.
The largest segment of the economy, Finance, insurance, real estate, rental, and leasing, which accounts for one-fifth of GO, grew nearly 12%. The finance and insurance sub-segment expanded more than 8% and the Real estate rental and leasing sub-segment performed even better with a 14.8% expansion that follows a 14.7% contraction in the previous period.
The Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting sector expanded 32%. Spending in the Utilities sector advanced 11.4%. The Construction sector was the only sector that did not achieve a double-digit growth rate in the third period. This sector still expanded at 9.6%.
Transportation and warehousing, as well as the Retail trade and the Wholesale trade, grew in excess of 50%. Because of the devastating decline in the second quarter, the Arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, and food services rebounded nearly 160% in the third period.
After pulling back slightly in the second quarter, overall government spending increased 5% in the third quarter. State and local government spending expanded nearly 11%, which drove the expansion of the overall government segment.
Federal government spending contracted nearly 7% compared to the previous period. However, that contraction is slightly misleading. The reason for this contraction is that federal government spending spiked 16% in the previous period, which was the first double-digit increase for this segment in more than a decade.
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 not quite the same as the “bottom line” (profit, or net income) of an accounting statement, but rather the “value added” or the value of final use.
GO tends to be more sensitive to the business cycle, and more volatile, than GDP.
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, bigger than GDP itself. 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.”
For More Information
Steve Forbes: What’s Ahead podcast. In this podcast, Steve Forbes discusses Gross Output with Mark Skousen on September 9, 2019: https://www.forbes.com/sites/steveforbes/2019/09/09/were-using-the-wrong-measure-gdp-to-gauge-the-economys-real-health-mark-skousen/#35ff3d9a52fa
GO-Day podcast discussion panel hosted Mark Skousen that included Steve Forbes, Sean Flynn, Steve Hanke, and David Ranson, September 30, 2020: https://chapman.zoom.us/rec/share/KJ17YjuR_6zthmgOA5fNprv2e65F-jICOsf430bJvnu8qWzdPYPfTohPC48qRLe9.Q8rmnlXynnTN74Tv?startTime=1601488807000
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, “If GDP Lags, Watch the Economy Grow,” Wall Street Journal, April 24, 2018: https://www.grossoutput.com/2018/04/26/away-go-economy-growing-faster-expected/
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
David Ranson, “Output growth data that the economy generates months earlier than GDP,” Economy Watch, July 24, 2017. HCWE & Co. http://www.hcwe.com/guest/EW-0717.pdf
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
# # #