Despite First Decline in More Than a Decade for Q1, Gross Output (GO) Might Still Offer Hope for a Robust Recovery in Late 2020

Washington, DC (Tuesday, July 7, 2020):  On July 6, 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 – slowed dramatically in the 1st quarter 2020.

Gross Output declined in the aftermath of current political unrests, as well as negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and government shutdown of the economy in response to the pandemic. However, GO might offer still some promise for a strong recovery, even over the short term. Business spending, which is a better indicator of economic recovery, declined significantly less than consumer spending. This might be an indication that the economy is more fundamentally sound than currently anticipated.

While some of the business spending was to fight the current epidemic, businesses also used a significant portion of that spending to transform and set up their operations for opening after government closing mandates are lifted. If that is correct, the economy might recover quicker than expected. The most recent jobs report also offered an indication that a relatively fast recovery is certainly a strong possibility.

After delivering steady increases over the past 42 consecutive quarters, first quarter 2020 Gross Output declined 4% in real-terms. Last time real GO declined — in the second quarter 2009 — was in the aftermath of the 2008 economic pullback. While still growing, GO had already slowed its growth rate to 1.1% in the fourth quarter 2019 from nearly 2.5% in the previous period.

This growth slowdown in the last period last year, and a decline in the first period 2020 offered a leading indication that the overall economy was already cooling. GO appears to have anticipated the pullback already in the first quarter even before the economy experienced the full effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and government-mandated shutdowns.

However, while gross output generally declines more than GDP during economic pullbacks, this period’s data presents an anomaly. Despite declining 4% on annualized basis, GO fell less than real GDP, which pulled back 5.1% in the same period.

One reason for this anomaly – and potential s positive sign pointing to a faster-than-expected recovery – is that business spending decreased at a slower rate than consumer spending. Businesses generally anticipate economic contractions and begin spending cuts earlier than consumers. Therefore, Gross Output, which includes business-to business transactions, generally offers earlier signs of pending economic contractions than GDP, which measures only final output.

While consumer spending fell 5.9% in the first quarter 2020, business spending contracted only 5.4%. Despite a relatively small magnitude, this is a significant margin as back-tested date indicates that business spending tends to decline at significantly higher rates than consumer spending during periods of “normal” economic contractions. The margin is even more significant in nominal terms where business spending fell just 4% compared to the 5.7% consumer spending decline. It appears that businesses anticipated the full impact of the COVID-19 epidemic based on just one month of information and adjusted their economic activity by reducing buying activities.

The disruptions in the domestic and global supply chain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as civic unrest in the U.S., have been in the news lately.  GO is the only macro statistic that includes the value of B2B spending and supply chain. “It deserves to be watched closely and updated frequently,” said Dr. Mark Skousen, presidential fellow at Chapman University and a leading advocate of GO as a better, more comprehensive indicator of economic performance.

 

Business — Not Consumers — Drives the Economy

Note:  Contrary to what the media says, consumer spending does not drive the economy, and does not represent two-thirds of the economy. Using GO as a better, more accurate measure of total spending in the economy, the business sector (B2B spending) is almost twice the size as consumer spending. Consumer spending is the effect, not the cause, of prosperity (Say’s law).

The continued business spending decline suggests that the economy began slowing down as a response to early signs that the COVID-19 epidemic’s impact could be significantly more serious than initially anticipated in December 2019. The U.S.–China Phase One trade agreement — signed on January 15, 2020, in Washington D.C. by China’s Vice Premier Liu He and U.S. President Donald Trump – went into effect on July 1, 2002.  However, there are accusations from both sides regarding the origin of the COVID-19 virus and new information that suggests Chinese government officials might have been aware that the epidemic began in China much earlier than they disclosed it in December 2019. Therefore this agreement might not have the intended economic impact as originally anticipated. Furthermore, protests and civil unrests in the U.S. create additional headwinds that the economy will have to overcome even after the COVID-19 pandemic is under control.

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.”

Whenever GO is growing faster than GDP, as it did in most of 2018, it’s a positive sign that the economy is still robust and growing.  However, GO has grown at a slower pace than the GDP in the last three quarters, a sign that the economy was slowing down as it entered 2020.

The federal government will release the advance estimate for second-quarter GDP on July 30, 2020 and a full release of second-quarter GO on September 30, 2020.

 

Report on Various Sectors of the Economy

In the first quarter 2020, 17 of 22 industry sectors groups contracted to drive the overall GO contraction. The second largest sector – Manufacturing – contracted 7.1% on an annualized basis. This pullback marked a third consecutive contraction after the sector declined 1.2% and 1.5% in the previous two periods of 2019. However, a bigger concern is that manufacturing of Durable goods declined nearly 10%. Durable goods, which include capital expense items by businesses and have bigger impact on long-term economic activity, declined considerably more than Nondurable goods, which contracted just 4.5%, less than half the rate for Durable goods.

Finance, insurance, real estate, rental, and leasing – the largest segment that accounts for nearly one-fifth of total Gross Output – was one of just few bright spots in the first quarter. After expanding 1.3% in Q4 2019, this sector more than doubled its growth to 3.2% in the first quarter 2020. The Finance and insurance sub-segment advanced 3.5% and Real estate rental and leasing still grew at a respectable 3.0%.

After briefly breaking a streak of declining for three consecutive periods in Q4 2019, the Mining sector posted a 42% drop in the first quarter 2020. While an important sector among the leading indicators in the early stages of production, the Mining sector only accounts for approximately 1.3% of the overall GO, which minimizes the impact of the decline on the economy overall.

Similarly to the Mining sector, the Utilities sector delivered a single-period increase in Q4 after two negative periods. However, in Q1 2020, the Utilities sector pulled back more than 21%. The Transportation and warehousing sector also suffered a large decline of nearly 16% after expanding 4.7% in the previous period.

Another positive contributor was the Construction sector. After increasing its expansion rate from 2.5% in Q3 to 4.4% Q4 2020, this sector expanded nearly 14% in the first period 2020.

Several other sectors, such as professional, business, educational, health care and social assistance, contracted between 1% and 5%. Under the lockdown directives, the    Arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, and food services sector declined more than 40%.

Another sector that continued its steady expansion was Government spending, albeit at a slightly slower pace. After expanding more than 4% in the last period of 2019, overall government spending rose 1.8% in the first quarter 2020. The main driver was a 3.7% growth of Federal government spending. State and local government spending increased at relatively small 1%.

 

Gross Output

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. Until mid-2018, GO outpaced GDP, suggesting a growing economy.  However, since then GO has slowed dramatically, threatening the economic boom.

Consumer Spending Declined Significantly More Than Business Spending in Q1 2020, Which Could Indicate That the Economy Has Solid Fundamentals and is Ready to Bounce Back as Soon as the COVID-19 Pandemic is Under Control and Government Restrictions Mandates Are Lifted

Our business-to-business (B2B) index is also useful. It measures all the business spending in the supply chain and new private capital investment. Nominal B2B activity contracted 4% in the fourth quarter to $26.3 trillion. Meanwhile, consumer spending contracted 5.7% on an annualized basis to $14.6 trillion. In real terms, B2B activity decreased at an annualized rate of 5.4% and consumer spending declined 5.9%.

 

Gross Output

“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 slowing its growth in the fourth quarter at the end of 2019, business activity declined 5.4% in real terms during the first-quarter 2020.

After the initial decline in early-2020, the stock market continues to experience volatility. However, since the mid-March lows, the markets have rebounded strongly and recovered most of those losses. The S&P 500 has risen 40% and has already recovered nearly 90% of its losses between the beginning of 2020 and its year-to-date low on March 23.

While lower than in the previous period, total business spending indicates that the overall economy might surge back in the second half of the year. One stumbling block for the economic recovery might be renewed and continued interference by government officials, such as Governor Sisolak’s (D-NV) decision to extend the current shutdown phase through the end of July in Las Vegas, which forced a cancellation of our FreedomFest conference for the first time since it began in 2007. Similar decisions might put additional pressure on businesses across the country and suppress economic recovery deeper into the year.”

 

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: BEA – Gross Output by Industry

For more information on Gross Output (GO), the Skousen B2B Index, and their relationship to GDP, see the following:

 

To interview Dr. Mark Skousen on this press release, contact him at [email protected], or Ned Piplovic, Media Relations at [email protected]

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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 2020 1st quarter is $37.8 trillion. By including gross sales at the wholesale and retail level, the adjusted GO increases to nearly $46.1 trillion in Q1 2020. Thus, the BEA omits more than $8.2 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.

My Schedule at FreedomFest 2020

by Mark Skousen
Editor, Forecasts & Strategies

FreedomFest

 

Dear FreedomFest friends,

Welcome to the most HISTORIC FreedomFest ever.  The challenges have never been greater, even to put on “the world’s largest gathering of free minds.” 

Those of you who choose to attend are in for a never-to-forget experience. 

This year we have moved over to Caesars Palace. 

Every FreedomFest, the first thing I do is get the printed program and circle all the breakout sessions I want to attend.  You should do the same.  You can get started now by going online to https://event.crowdcompass.com/ff20, and see the entire up-to-date program.  There are over 200 sessions to choose from, including my wife’s Anthem film festival.

Order the thumb drive recordings!  Since I can only attend about 10% of all the sessions, the first thing I do is buy the recordings of the entire conference — contact Harold at 1-866-254-2057. 

Here are the sessions I have chosen to attend this year: 

 

MONDAY, JULY 13 — PRE-CONFERENCE EVENTS

12:30 – 1:20 pm. Milano.  “Who Has 20-20 Vision?  History, Science & Art of Forecasting, From Oracle of Delphi to Modern Times.”   This is a wide-ranging discussion of the science and art of forecasting over time, from the Greeks, the Biblical prophets, Nostradamus, to modern times.  I’ve had a life-long interest in predicting the future since starting my newsletter, Forecasts & Strategies, now in its 40th year.  My talk will include lots of stories about predictions that have come true, and others gone astray. 

1:30 – 2:25 pm.  Milano.  “Murray Rothbard as Historian:  Should ‘Conceived in Liberty’ be Aborted?”  Murray Rothbard wrote a controversial history of the United States, especially his volume 4 on the American Revolution and his just published volume 5 on the Constitution.  Panels include Patrick Newman, and legal expert Randy Barnett (I’ll be moderating). 

2:40 – 3:30 pm.  Milano.  “100 Years of the Socialist Calculation Debate:  Was Mises Right?” with George Gilder, Barbara Kolm, and Steve Forbes (with me as moderator). 

 

MONDAY — OPENING CEREMONIES AND COCKTAIL RECEPTION

5 – 7 pm.  Opening Ceremonies in Main Stage #1 (Julius 25)Dave Smith, libertarian comedian extraordinaire and our emcee, will kick out our “emergency meeting” followed by Steve Forbes speaking on “The Two Biggest Threats to Our Prosperity Today.”  Steve will then moderate a panel on “The New Normal: How the World Has Permanently Changed” with George Gilder, Dr. Drew (Pinsky), Elan Journo (Ayn Rand Institute), and Kerry McDonald (FEE).  We will then have a second panel on “The Pandemic Election” led by Grover Norquist, with David McIntosh (Club for Growth), Rob Arnott (Research Affiliates), John Fund (National Review), and Tim Phillips (Americans for Prosperity).  Lastly, Wayne Root will introduce our final speaker, Donald J. Trump Jr. on “Rage Against the Swamp: A Pro-Freedom Agenda to Defeat Washington’s Est abolishment.” A tall order! 

7-8 pm.  Gala Opening Cocktail Party in the Exhibit Hall. I look forward to greeting each other and the exhibitors, what John Mackey calls “The Trade Show for Liberty,” and join in the autograph sessions at the FreedomFest bookstore.  Here’s a chance to buy one or more American eagle silver dollars from our coin dealers…and see if you can solve my daily “white mates in two” chess problem and win a silver dollar!  Hopefully you will encounter our libertarian card magician, Peter Studebaker.  What fun!

I’m always amazed at the buzz you feel entering the opening cocktail party as friends see old friends and make new ones.  There’s nothing like it.

As the late Nathaniel Brandon said at his first FreedomFest, “I feel an electricity here I haven’t felt in years.”

 

TUESDAY, JULY 14

After breakfast, we’ll start the day’s session at 9 am with three main sessions (due to social distancing requirements).  The MC in main stage #1 is Dave Smith; in main stage #2 Monica Perez; and in main stage #3, Angela McArdle

9:10 – 10:10 am. Main stage #1 (Julius 25).  Dr. Drew will speak on “What’s in a Virus:  Understanding the History and Future of Pandemic Responses.”  I’ll be asking questions after his address, and taking questions from the audience. 

11:10 – 12 noon.  Verona.  “Bob Dylan, the Voice of a Generation.”  Jo Ann Skousen brings to live the lyrics and music of Bob Dylan, winner of the Nobel prize in literature.  This is what I love about FreedomFest.  It’s more than politics and money. 

12:10 – 1:10 pm. Florentine Ballroom.  Luncheon.  “Ask Dr. Drew!  America’s Doctor Answers Your Questions.”  Moderated by Michael Shermer, publisher, Skeptic magazine.  Ticket required.

1:20 – 2:10 pm. Verona. “The Golden Age of Jazz:  Celebrating 100 Years of a Unique American Artform,” with jazz drummer Luke Durham, and music aficionados Alex Green and Sean Malone.  This room is dedicated to Elis Marsalis Sr. and Jr.

2:30 – 3:30 pm.  Main stage #2 (Palace 1/2).  “Who Will Win in November? My Surprise Prediction,” by Allan Lichtman, professor at American University and author of “Keys to the White House” (via satellite).  Interviewed by Grover Norquist.  Prof. Lichtman has accurately predicted every presidential election from Reagan to Trump.

4:20 – 5:10 pm. Main stage #3 (Julius 24).  Tal Tsfany on “Ayn Rand and the Key to Happiness.”  The new president of the Ayn Rand Institute is an entertainment and spell-binding speaker. 

5:30 – 6:00 pm. Main stage #2 (Palace 1/2).  Jo Jorgensen, “With Liberty and Justice for All.”  Jorgensen is the Libertarian candidate for President.   

6:30 – 7:00 pm.  Main stage #3 (Julius 24) “The Five Arguments That Won’t Go Away,” with Tom Woods. 

7:00 – 8:30 pm.  Florentine Ballroom.  “Anthem VIP Masterclass and Reception.”  Ticket required. 

 

WEDNESDAY, JULY 15.

9 – 9:30 am.  Milano.  “The Great Inflation vs Deflation Debate” between Louis Navellier, Rob Arnott, and Steve Moore, moderated by Alex Green.  Will super easy money policies reignite inflation and higher interest rates? 

9:45 – 10:30 am. Main stage #1 (Julius 25).  “Pitch Tank Finale:  Your First Hand Experience to be a Shark!” with Jeff Barnes, Steve Forbes, and other judges.  Always a popular session.

11:10 – 12:00 pm. Augustus I/II.  “God Must be a Mathematician: The Beauty and Mystery of Math Revealed.” Daniele Struppa, president of Chapman University and a professor of mathematics, reveals the universal beauty of numbers.  Daniele is a practicing Catholic. 

Lunch

1:20 – 2:10 pm. Georgetown law professor Randy Barnett on “100 Supreme Court Cases Everyone Should Know.”  100 seems a stretch, how about a dozen? 

2:30 – 3:00 pm.  Milano.  Professor Harry Veryser talks about his book, “It’s Didn’t Have to be This Way: Why Boom & Bust in Unnecessary & How the Austrians Break the Cycle.”

3:00-3:30 pm.  Milano.  I update my book, “A Viennese Waltz Down Wall Street” with a Eureka moment in Austrian Economics in my financial economics class at Chapman. 

4:20 – 5:10 pm. Roman 1/3.  Professor Mark J. Perry (AEI and U of Michigan) defends his passion, “Civil Rights for All – A Look at How Title IX is Being Abused Across College Campuses.”     Perry is one of the most brilliant economists I know. 

Or

4:20 – 5:10 pm.  Hawaii Pacific Prof. Ken Schoolland on “How to Make US Shipping Great Again: The Case Against the 100-Year Jones Act.”  Ken is the author of the great book, “The Adventures of Jonathan Gullible.”  Pick up a copy at the FreedomFest bookstore. 

6 – 7:15 pm. Main stage #1 (Julius 25)  “The Response to the Pandemic on Trial.”  The mock trial is our most popular event each year.  This year we are putting the pandemic/lockdown on trial, with Tom Woods as judge, Catherine Bernard as prosecuting attorney, Michael Shermer as defending attorney, and star witnesses Joel Hay, Steve Moore, and Clark County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly.  The sparks will fly!  Both entertaining and educational.

8 – 9:30 pm. Florentine Ballroom.  40th Anniversary Celebration of Forecasts & Strategies.  A roast and toast with Louis Navellier, Alex Green, Steve Forbes, Adrian Day, Roger Michalski, and Jo Ann Skousen. Response by Mark Skousen.  Limited to 200 subscribers. 

 

THURSDAY, JULY 16

8 – 8:50 am. Florentine Ballroom. A Breakfast with Steve Forbes and Mark Skousen“We Mean Business:  How Adam Smith’s Model of Enlightened Capitalism Can Save Us!” based on Steve Forbes’s book “How Capitalism Can Save Us.” 

9 – 9:45 am. Milano.  “10 Stocks to Buy Now,” with Mark Skousen, Alex Green, Hilary Kramer, and Jim Woods.  Moderated by Roger Michalski. I will have to leave early for the next session. 

9:30 – 10:30 am. Main stage #2 (Palace 1/2).  My wife Jo Ann Skousen and I discuss “What’s Better than Democratic Socialism?  Democratic Capitalism!”  A unique approach that converts many socialists to capitalists! 

11:10 – 12:00 noon. Main stage #1 (Julius 25).  I interview Senator Rand Paul and his wife Kelley on their co-authored book “The Case Against Socialism.”  During this session, I will present them with the annual Leonard E. Read Book Award.  Read this book!

12:10 – 1:10 pm. Florentine Ballroom.  Lunch with Senator Rand Paul and Kelley Paul.  “Behind the Scenes in Washington.”  Time to ask questions. 

1:20 – 2:20 pm.  Main stage #1 (Julius 25).  Closing Panel:  What Have We Learned?  How Do We Go Forward?  With Steve Forbes and others TBD.  Plus announcing next year’s theme and celebrity speaker (you’ll be amazed). 

2:40 – 3:30 pm. Main stage #3 (Julius 24).  “Self-Reliance:  Are You Prepared to Survive the Next Global Crisis?” with Van Simmons, Gary Collins, and Captain Jim Green. 

3:50 – 4:40 pm. Main stage #2 (Palace 1/2).  “Modern Times Turns 200:  The Truth about the Robber Barons and the Industrial Revolution.” Steve Forbes and I take a revisionist approach about the Gilded Age of Rockefeller, Carnegie, Morgan, and Ford. 

6 – 7 pm. Main stage #1.  Reception and gala banquet, “The Roaring 20s: FreedomFest Farewell Banquet.”  MC by Dave Smith.  Anthem film festival hosted by Jo Ann Skousen. Tribute to Ed Crane.  Music and entertainment by The Moonshiners.

 

After a long four-day event, it feels great to get out on the dance floor.  See you there!

This is also my opportunity to thank everyone who has worked so hard and put in countless hours or work and creativity to make this year’s FreedomFest and Anthem Film Festival an incredible success — Valerie Durham, our conference director; Matt Day, Autumn Bennett, Nathan WilliamsHarold Skousen, our registration team, and of course my wife Jo Ann. 

And see you next year!  Dates are July 14-17, 2021, at the Paris Resort, Las Vegas.  Both John Mackey and Steve Forbes will be there.  Details to be announced soon at www.freedomfest.com.

Yours for peace, prosperity and liberty, AEIOU,

Mark Skousen

Producer

 

Gross Output (GO) Anticipated Slowdown in 2020 – Before the Deluge

Washington, DC (Monday, April 6, 2020): On April 6, 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 – slowed dramatically in the 4th quarter 2019.

The 1.1% real-term growth in the fourth-quarter 2019 was substantially lower than the 2.5% expansion in the previous period, and much slower than 4th quarter real GDP (2.1%).  This growth slowdown at the end of last year indicated that the overall economy was cooling already coming into 2020.

Furthermore, after surging more than 4% in the second quarter and rising 2% in the third-quarter 2019, business-to-business (B2B) in the supply chain declined 1.7% in the last quarter of the year.

It appears that the businesses anticipated the full impact of the COVID-19 epidemic based on just one month of information and adjusted their economic activity by reducing buying activities.

The disruptions in the global supply chain have been in the news lately.  GO is the only macro statistic that includes the value of B2B spending and supply chain.  “It deserves to be watched closely and updated for frequently,” said Dr. Mark Skousen, presidential fellow at Chapman University and a leading advocate of GO as a better, more comprehensive indicator of economic performance.

After growing faster than the GDP in the first three periods of the year, GO growth of 1.1% in real terms underperformed substantially the 2.1% GDP growth rate for the fourth quarter. Total spending on new goods and services (adjusted GO) [1] increased to above $46.45 trillion. While GO still managed to expand, albeit at a slower pace than in the previous period, B2B spending declined 0.8% (-1.7% in real terms). Additionally, consumer spending growth slowed for the second consecutive period 3.2% (1.9% in real terms) for the current period.

 

Business — Not Consumers — Drives the Economy

Note:  Contrary to what the media says, consumer spending does not drive the economy, and does not represent two-thirds of the economy. Using GO as a better, more accurate measure of total spending in the economy, the business sector (B2B spending) is almost twice the size as consumer spending. Consumer spending is the effect, not the cause, of prosperity (Say’s law).

The business spending decline suggests that the economy began slowing down amid early signs that the COVID-19 epidemic might have a bigger impact than initially anticipated in December 2019. China’s Vice Premier Liu He and U.S. President Donald Trump signed the U.S.–China Phase One trade agreement on January 15, 2020, in Washington D.C. However, this agreement might not have the intended economic  impact in the midst of accusations from both sides regarding the origin of the COVID-19 virus.

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.”

Whenever GO is growing faster than GDP, as it did in most of 2018, it’s a positive sign that the economy is still robust and growing.  However, GO has grown at a slower pace than the GDP in the last three quarters, a sign that the economy was slowing down as it entered 2020.

The federal government will release the advance estimate for first-quarter GDP on April 29, 2020 and second-quarter GDP on July 30, 2020.  Both are expected to show a sharp drop in GDP growth and another recession.

 

Report on Various Sectors of the Economy

The second largest sector – Manufacturing – contracted 1.2% on annualized basis. However, this fourth-quarter contraction was actually lower than the 1.5% pullback in the previous period. However, a concern is that manufacturing of Durable goods declined 3%. Durable goods, which include capital expense items by businesses and have bigger impact on long-term economic activity, declined considerably while Nondurable goods still expanded at 0.8%.

Finance, insurance, real estate, rental, and leasing – the largest segment that accounts for nearly one-fifth of the total gross output – expanded at just 1.3%. The tempered growth rate was driven by a 2.2% contraction in the Finance and insurance subsegment.

After declining for three consecutive periods, the Mining sector reversed trend and delivered a 1.4% expansion in the fourth quarter. While an important sector among the leading indicators in the early stages of production, the Mining sector only accounts for approximately 1.5% of the overall GO, which minimizes the impact of the decline on the economy overall.

Reversing direction after two negative periods with a 2.7% expansion in the third quarter, Utilities expanded again 1.4% in the fourth-quarter 2019. Transportation and warehousing expanded 4.7%. Construction improved its growth rate from 2.5% in Q3 to 4.4% for the last period of the year. Alternatively, Professional and business services, which accounts for more than one tenth of GO, grew only 2.9% in the fourth quarter after surging 6.9% in the preceding period.

Another troublesome indicator is that Government spending increased again after declining briefly in the third quarter. Overall government spending increased 4.1%. Federal spending led with a 4.6% growth over the previous period. State and local government spending increased 3.9%

Gross Output

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 attempts 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. Until mid-2018, GO outpaced GDP, suggesting a growing economy.  However, since then GO has slowed dramatically, threatening the economic boom.

 

While Consumer Spending Continued to Advance in Q4, Business Spending (B2B) Began Contracting at The End of 2019 in Anticipation of the Current Economic Downturn.

Our business-to-business (B2B) index is also useful. It measures all the business spending in the supply chain and new private capital investment. Nominal B2B activity contracted 0.8% in the fourth quarter to $26.6 trillion. Meanwhile, consumer spending rose to $14.8 trillion, equivalent to a 3.2% annualized growth rate. In real terms, B2B activity decreased at an annualized rate of -1.7% and consumer spending rose at 1.9%.

Gross Output

“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 slowing considerably in the first-quarter 2019, business activity picked up the pace and expanded 1.1% in real terms during each of the two subsequent periods. However, business spending reversed direction and contracted 1.7% in real terms for the last period of 2019. The stock market continued to advance and the overall economy appeared to maintain its upward trajectory in October and November 2019. However, private businesses gleaned enough information from the early stage of the COVID-19 outbreak in December to reduce their overall buying on concerns that the mild outbreak could turn into a full pandemic. Overall business spending trend continues to be an early indicator that anticipates the direction that the overall economy will take over the subsequent few quarters.”

About GO and B2B Index

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

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: BEA – Gross Output by Industry

For more information on Gross Output (GO), the Skousen B2B Index, and their relationship to GDP, see the following:

 

To interview Dr. Mark Skousen on this press release, contact him at [email protected], or Ned Piplovic, Media Relations at [email protected]

# # #

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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 2019 3rd quarter is $38 trillion. By including gross sales at the wholesale and retail level, the adjusted GO increases to more than $46 trillion in Q3 2019. Thus, the BEA omits more than $8 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.

40 Year of Forecasts & Strategies

Dear friends,

My publisher, Salem Eagle, has just posted my special 40th Anniversary Report, “Seven Golden Lessons:  An Editor’s Perspective After 40 Years.”  It contains all the valuable lessons I’ve learned in 40 years on Wall Street.  Since starting my newsletter, “Forecasts & Strategies,” in 1980, I’ve seen it all — boom and bust, bull and bear markets, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, and have survived and prospered through it all.

 

You can read it here:  https://www.markskousen.com/seven-golden-lessons-learned-on-wall-street-an-editors-perspective-after-40-years/

 

There is no charge for this report.  Feel free to circulate among your friends, family and colleagues.

 

Thanks, AEIOU,

Mark Skousen

Presidential Fellow, Chapman University

Newsletter:  www.markskousen.com

Free weekly e-letter:  https://www.markskousen.com/signups/skousen-investor-cafe/

Personal website:  www.mskousen.com

Annual conference:  www.freedomfest.com

U.S. Economy on the GO: Total Spending Accelerates

Washington, DC (Thursday, January 9, 2020):  On January 9, 2020, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released the “top line” measure of total spending at all stages of the economy, known as gross output (GO), for the 3rd quarter 2019.

Real GO rose 2.5%, 25% than the 2.0% growth in the previous period, and faster than real GDP (2.1%).

The latest GO data suggests that the overall economy continues its growth at a slightly faster pace than it did in the first half of 2019. However, after surging more than 4% in the previous period, business-to-business (B2B) in the supply chain advanced just 2% in the third quarter.

After trailing GDP growth for two consecutive periods to begin 2019, GO growth has accelerated toward the end of 2019, and implies continued growth into 2020.  Total spending on new goods and services (adjusted GO) [1] increased to above $46 trillion for the first time.  While GO expanded at a faster pace than in the previous period, B2B spending advanced just 2% (1.3% in real terms), which was only half the growth rate from the previous period. Additionally, consumer spending growth slowed as well from 6.9% (4.4% real) in the second quarter to 4.6% (2.8% real) for the current period. (4.4% in real terms).

 

Business — Not Consumers — Drives the Economy

Note:  Contrary to what the media says, consumer spending does not drive the economy, and does not represent two-thirds of the economy. Using GO as a better, more accurate measure of total spending in the economy, the business sector (B2B spending) is almost twice the size as consumer spending. Consumption represents only about one-third of total economic demand.  Consumer spending is the effect, not the cause, of prosperity (Say’s law).

The renewed increase in business spending suggests that the economy is likely to continue expanding at a moderate pace. Strong corporate earnings, prediction that the Federal Reserve is likely to maintain current interest rate levels for 2020 and reliable indications that government representatives of China and the United States will sign phase-one trade deal as early as next week might be drivers of the continued business spending.

In addition to an overall GO growth of 2.5%, most of the individual sectors expanded as well. Just like in the previous period, only two sectors contracted in the third quarter. Furthermore, after a 5.4% expansion in the previous period, government spending growth cooled slightly to “only“ 3.5%.

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.”

Whenever GO is growing faster than GDP, as it is now doing, it’s a positive sign that the economy is still robust and growing.

The federal government will release the advance estimate for fourth-quarter GDP on January 30, 2020. If 3rd quarter GO serves as a good forecaster, GDP is likely to grow faster than 2.1%.

 

Report on Various Sectors of the Economy

The mining sector declined now for the third consecutive period. Additionally, the pullback of nearly 26% is significantly higher than the 7% contraction in the previous period. Fortunately, while Mining is a very important sector in the early stages of production, the segment only accounts for approximately 1.5% of the overall GO, which minimizes the impact of the decline on the economy overall.

The second sector that contracted in the third quarter was manufacturing. While manufacturing is the second largest sector with a 16% share, the sector contracted just 1.5%. Despite the segments size, the 1.5% contraction had a smaller effect on the overall economy than the Mining sector’s pullback. Some positive news would be that the 1.9% Non-Durable goods contraction represents nearly 60% of manufacturing’s overall decline. Durable goods, which include capital expense items by businesses and have bigger impact on long-term economic activity, declined just 1.2%, which is lower than the 4.2% decline in the previous period and the 11.7% pullback in the first-quarter 2019.

Similarly, utilities continued to move in the positive direction. After contracting 13.6% in the first quarter and 4.2% in the second quarter of the year, utilities expanded 2.7% in the third-quarter 2019. Transportation remained virtually flat compared to previous period.

After pausing growth and remaining flat in the previous period, construction expanded 2.5%.  Professional and business services, which accounts for more than one tenth of GO, delivered annualized growth of 6.9%, which was the highest growth rate of any sector this period. However, while slightly lower at 6.6%, the growth of the finance, insurance, real estate, rental, and leasing sector was a bigger driver of economic expansion on the account of the largest share of the economy at 16%.

Government spending at all levels increased at an annualized rate of 3.45%. The growth was well balanced between the federal level which expanded at 3.41% and the state and local level growth of 3.49%. However, a positive sign is that government expansion overall and at each individual level was lower than in the previous period. In the second quarter overall government grew 5.4%, 4.6% on the federal level and 6.7% locally.

 GO

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. Lately, GO has outpaced GDP, suggesting a growing economy.

 

Business Spending (B2B) Continues to Advance at a Slower Pace Than Consumer Spending in both Nominal and Real Terms.

Our business-to-business (B2B) index is also useful. It measures all the business spending in the supply chain and new private capital investment. Nominal B2B activity expanded just 2% in the third second quarter to $26.4 trillion. Meanwhile, consumer spending rose to $14.7 trillion, which is equivalent to a 4.6% annualized growth rate. In real terms, B2B activity rose at an annualized rate of 1.3% and consumer spending rose at 2.8%.

GO“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 slowing considerably in the fourth-quarter 2018 and first-quarter 2019, business activity picked up the pace in the second quarter and third quarters. While lower than in the previous period, business spending still expanded 2% in the third-quarter 2019, which indicates that the economy might still have enough momentum to maintain a moderate expansion trend, unless prevented by negative developments in trade or monetary policy.”

 

About GO and B2B Index

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

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: BEA – Gross Output by Industry

For more information on Gross Output (GO), the Skousen B2B Index, and their relationship to GDP, see the following:

To interview Dr. Mark Skousen on this press release, contact him at [email protected], or Ned Piplovic, Media Relations at [email protected]

# # #

________________________________________
[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 2019 3rd quarter is $38 trillion. By including gross sales at the wholesale and retail level, the adjusted GO increases to more than $46 trillion in Q3 2019. Thus, the BEA omits more than $8 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.

U.S. Enjoys a Modest Recovery – No Recession in Sight!

Washington, DC (Tuesday, October 29, 2019):

On October 29, 2019, the Bureau of Economic Analysis released gross output (GO) data for the 2nd quarter 2019. The 2.0% real-term growth in the second-quarter 2019 was 25% higher than the 1.6% growth in the previous period.  Adj. GO[1] grew even faster, 2.9% in real terms for the 2nd quarter.

After experiencing a lower growth rate in the first-quarter 2019, adj. GO growth resumed its trend from the prior three periods and advanced 4% in nominal terms and 2.9% in real terms in the second quarter. Interestingly, nominal GDP grew 4.6% in nominal terms in the 2nd quarter.

Total spending on new goods and services (adjusted GO) rose to nearly $45.7 trillion. In line with the GO indications, B2B spending advanced 5.9% (3.8% in real terms) and consumer spending expanded 6.9% (4.4% in real terms).  All second quarter growth rates were substantially higher than growth rates from the previous period, which ranged from 0.5% to 1.5%.

Mark Skousen, a presidential fellow at Chapman University and editor of Forecasts & Strategies, states, “This expansion implies that the economy is currently still recovering modestly without any major recession indicators in sight.  After a flat performance in the first quarter, business-to-business (B2B) in the supply chain advanced nearly 6% in the second quarter. That’s good news.”

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.”

Recently, Steve Forbes compared GDP to an x-ray of the economy, and GO to a CAT-scan.  See his commentary in the October 31, 2019, issue of Forbes magazine:  https://www.forbes.com/sites/steveforbes/2019/10/08/gdp-is-the-wrong-measure-to-truly-gauge-an-economys-health/#4be5ff3c13ce

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

 

Business — Not Consumers — Drives the Economy

According to Skousen, the introduction of GO has important implications for the economy and economic policy.  Contrary to what the media says, consumer spending does not represent two-thirds of the economy. GO is a better, more accurate measure of total spending in the economy.  It turns out that the business sector (B2B spending) is almost twice the size as consumer spending. Consumer spending is the effect, not the cause, of prosperity (Say’s law).

The renewed increase in business spending suggests that the economy might be able to avert a major slowdown and continue expanding at a moderate pace. Strong corporate earnings, interest rate cuts by the Fed, and optimism about resolving the trade conflicts with China might be drivers behind renewed business spending.

In addition to an overall GO expansion of 4.9% (2.9% in real terms), most of the individual industrial sectors grew as well. Unlike the first quarter when five sectors contracted, only two sectors (Mining and Utilities) declined in the second quarter.  Interestingly, government spending growth expanded more than two-fold.

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.”

Whenever GO is growing faster than GDP, as it did in most of 2018, it’s a positive sign that the economy is still robust and growing.  However, GO has grown at a slower pace than the GDP in 2019.

The federal government will release the advance estimate for third-quarter GDP on January 9, 2020.  Brian Moyer, the director of the BEA, expects top-line GO and bottom-line GDP to be released simultaneously in September 2020.

 

Report on Various Sectors of the Economy

While the Mining sector declined for the third consecutive period, the 6.8% pullback was significantly lower than the 26% contraction in the previous period. The Utilities sector also delivered a second consecutive pullback. Just like the Mining sector, the 8.9% contraction was lower than the previous period’s pullback of 13.6%. However, these two sectors combine for less than 3% share of total GO. Therefore, while important indicators as early stages of production, the impact on the overall GO is minor.

More importantly, Manufacturing – the second-largest segment with 17% share of Gross Output – remained relatively flat and expanded only 0.5%. While experiencing only minimal growth, the Manufacturing sector still performed significantly better than it did in the previous period when the sector contracted 3.7%.

While lower than the 11.7% pullback in the previous period, Durable goods’ 4.2% decline in the second quarter limited growth of the overall Manufacturing sector despite a 1.5% expansion of non-durable gods. After a 12% growth in the previous period, Construction remined flat in the second quarter.

The Information sector was the fastest growing sector with 8.1%. While growing at a slightly lower rate of 6.8%, the Finance, insurance, real estate, rental, and leasing sector contributed the most to GO growth as it is the largest sector with nearly 20% share to total GO. Driven by a 6% expansion of the health care segment, the Educational services, health care, and social assistance sector, which accounts for 8% share of GO, expanded 5.6%.

Unfortunately, the overall expansion of GO brought along an increase in government spending as well. With an 11% share of Gross Output, total government spending increased 5.4%, which is an order of magnitude higher than the growth rate of only 1.5% in the previous period. Generally, state and local government spending tends to grow faster than federal spending. However, in the second-quarter 2019, State and local government spending grew ”only” 4.8% and the Federal government increased its spending by 6.7%. Since early 2016, this has been the second period in a row where federal government grew faster than state and local government spending.

 

Gross output

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. Until mid-2018, GO outpaced GDP, suggesting a growing economy.

 

Currently Business Spending (B2B) has Advanced at a Slower Pace Than Consumer Spending in both Nominal and Real Terms.

Our business-to-business (B2B) index is also useful. It measures all the business spending in the supply chain and new private capital investment. Nominal B2B activity expanded 5.9% in the second quarter to $26.4 trillion. Meanwhile, consumer spending rose to $14.5 trillion, which is equivalent to a 6.9% annualized growth rate. In real terms, B2B activity rose at an annualized rate of 3.8% and consumer spending rose at 4.4%.

 

Gross output

“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 slowing considerably in the fourth-quarter 2018 and first-quarter 2019, business activity picked up the pace in the second quarter, which indicates that the economy might still have enough momentum to maintain a moderate expansion trend, unless prevented by negative developments in trade or monetary policy.”

 

About GO and B2B Index

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

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: BEA – Gross Output by Industry

For more information on Gross Output (GO), the Skousen B2B Index, and their relationship to GDP, see the following:

To interview Dr. Mark Skousen on this press release, contact him at [email protected], or Ned Piplovic, Media Relations at [email protected]

# # #

________________________________________
[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 2019 2nd quarter is $37.7 trillion. By including gross sales at the wholesale and retail level, the adjusted GO increases to $45.6 trillion in Q2 2019. Thus, the BEA omits $8 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.

THERE’S MUCH RUIN IN A NATION: MODERN MONETARY THEORY

By Mark Skousen
Chapman University
[email protected]

“Today, as in the past, a sound money system is the condition of man’s freedom and the key to his future.”

 — Jacques Rueff[1]

Three heterodox economists William Mitchell and Martin Watts (both University of Newscastle, Australia), and L. Randall Wray (Bard College, New York) — hereafter referred to as MWW — have written a textbook entitled Macroeconomics, co-published this year by Macmillan International and Red Globe Press.  They promise a “comprehensive, university level study course in Macroeconomics from a Modern Monetary theory (MMT) perspective…grounded in real world institutions…and starts by putting the currency-issuing government at the forefront.”[2]

Having analyzed economics textbooks in my career, I found it a valuable exercise to determine what this textbook includes and what it ignores in making the case for MMT.[3]

In the introduction, they acknowledge that MMT grew out of the financial crisis of 2008 and the “cult of austerity” accompanying it.  They criticize the “neo-classical” economists for failing to “see it coming,” and wrongly predicting that inflation would accelerate after the monetary crisis due to quantitative easing.  MMT “rejects the main precepts of the orthodox neoclassical approach to macroeconomics” (13) and the self-interested “invisible hand” in microeconomics (6).

Thus, MWW see the need for a new Weltanschauung based on the heterodox theories of Marx, Veblen and Keynes.  They endorse the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the right to work and protection against unemployment, equal pay for equal work, and a minimum standard of living (9-11).

At times the authors appear nihilistic:  “…there is no single ‘right’ way to do economics….…the responsible social scientist is not seeking to establish whether the theoretical model is true, because that is an impossible task given there is no way of knowing what the truth is anyway” (3, 8).  And, they assert, “there is no scientific basis for the claim that ‘free markets’ are best” (pp. 3, 9).

 

“There are no financial constraints”

Despite this caveat, their conclusions are dogmatic:  “The most important conclusion reached by MMT is that the issuer of a currency faces no financial constraints.  Put simply, a country that issues its own currency can never run out and can never become insolvent in its own currency.  It can make all payments as they come due.  For this reason, it makes no sense to compare a sovereign government’s finances with those of a household or firm” (14).

For MWW, the budget and debt constraints that operate for an individual and household do not apply to the government.  They reject Adam Smith’s refrain, “What is prudence in the conduct of every private family can scarce be folly in that of a great kingdom.”[4]  To the contrary, “the household budget analogy is false” (124) because unlike households and businesses, government has the power to tax and to print money (318).

They reject the “cult of austerity” (14).  Now that advanced countries are no longer constrained by the gold standard or fixed exchange rates, “currency-issuing governments such as those of Australia, Britain, Japan and the USA can never run out of money…for most governments, there is no default risk on government debt” (14, 15).

Furthermore, if a nation operates with a sovereign currency and avoids incurring debt in foreign currencies (a big if), “the national government can always afford to purchase anything…” (16).

 

The Principal Policy Goal:  Full Employment

To what purpose should the government run deficits and monetary inflation?  Fiscal policy should aim for full employment of labor and resources and guarantee everyone a job, either in the private or public sector.  They call it a Job Guarantee (JG) program.  In chapter 19, MWW “elaborate on why full employment should be the key macroeconomic policy goal” (291).  Not controlling inflation, not economic growth, not maximizing freedom.  But job guarantees for all, the “right to work” at a “living wage” (292, 295, 302).

Figure 1 below illustrates the classic Keynesian case of increasing aggregate demand (AD) to achieve full employment.

MODERN MONETARY THEORY

If there is chronic unemployment, “the government [can] always put them to productive use…to hire them to perform useful work in the public interest” (16), involving “direct job creation by government” (295).

But there’s more.  “There is no financial constraints to stop a currency-issuing government providing first class healthcare and/or pensions in the future” (127).

“An MMT frame considers the $x in the fiscal papers to be of little interest” (130).

They don’t mention it, but how about using government revenues to finance military adventures abroad?  At the beginning of World War II, ten million unemployed were suddenly employed as soldiers in the US armed forces.

Does this fiscal nirvana sound dangerous and irresponsible?  Is there method to their madness?

In a 5-page section on “mainstream fallacies,” they list eight myths of political economy, including a denial that fiscal deficits cause crowding out of private investments, higher taxes, inflation, or big government, or the need for a balanced budget rule or a “rainy day” fund (124-128).  They go out of their way to belittle any government leaders who speak out against “living beyond our means”… “spending like a drunken sailor”… “welfare dependency”… “burdening our grandchildren with the public debt”… or “national bankruptcy” (124).

 

Three Ways to Pay for Government Spending

There are three ways to finance a new government program.  MWW put it in the form of an equation:

G +iB = T + ΔB + ΔM

where

G = government spending
iB = interest payments on public debt
T = tax revenue
ΔB = new borrowing selling government bonds
ΔM = new base money creation

The most burdensome and politically unpopular method is direct taxation (T).  For them, the best policy is to “spend first, tax later” (323).  They ask, “Why not just eliminate taxes altogether?”  MWW reject that suggestion because it makes it more difficult for the government to borrow money without the threat of taxation (323), and progressive taxation helps reduce inequality (324).  Ideally, according to MWW, taxes should be “countercyclical,” increasing during an expansion and falling during a recession (323).

 

Deficits and the National Debt: “We Owe It Ourselves?”

The second way to finance government is to borrow the funds to pay for the program (ΔB).  It postpones the pain of paying directly through taxation.  But there is a price to pay down the road — the government has to pay back the principal to the bond holders and it has to pay interest, usually every six months (iB).

MMT proponents claim that government deficits are self-financing because sovereign nations can issue more debt, raise taxes, or print money.  Moreover, government borrowing is also an asset in the form of government bonds held by investors.  “The government’s deficit is always mirrored by an equivalent surplus in another part of the economy,” states Stephanie Kelton, economist at Stony Brook University.[5]

This statement is, in essence, the old “we owe it ourselves” argument.  Robert Shiller calls it a “half truth.”  He states, “The claim would have been accurate only in an extreme, theoretical case:  if everyone had identical bond holds and paid identical taxes to cover the interest and principal that were paying themselves.  But we are never going to be in that situation in the real world.”[6]

Libertarian economist Murray Rothbard debunked the “we owe it ourselves” argument:  “The crucial question is: Who is the ‘we’ and who are the ‘ourselves’?”  The bondholders (who tend to be wealthy individuals and institutions) are not the same as the taxpayers (who tend to be middle class.”  “For we might just as well say that taxes are unimportant for the same reason.”[7]

 

National Bankruptcy: False Fear?

Advanced economies have been able to borrow huge amounts of money, more than most economists thought possible.

MWW claim, “The government can consistently spend more than its revenue because it creates the currency” (15).  Technically bankruptcy is impossible.  “Treasury cheques never ‘bounce” due to insufficient funds” (327).

There is some truth to their statement.  American conservatives have cried wolf time and time again about the dangers of deficit spending, that it will lead to national bankruptcy.  I’ve heard it all my life, even now that the US federal debt is now over $21 trillion.

Murray Rothbard set the record straight when he debunked this myth about the national debt.  He wrote:  “Many opponents of public borrowing…have greatly exaggerated the dangers of the public debt and have raised persistent alarms about imminent ‘bankruptcy.’  It is obvious that the government cannot become ‘insolvent’ like private individuals–for it can always obtain money by coercion…by increasing the tax and/or inflation in society.”[8]

 

Japan as an Example?

MWW point to Japan as an example of a nation where a country can engage in persistent fiscal deficits (pushing the national debt to an astonishing 235% of GDP) without igniting a sharp rise in interest rates or higher unemployment (27-31).  Interesting that the authors ignore the fact that accompanying these massive deficits is Japanese’s anemic economic growth rate since 1992 (an average real 0.9% a year) when they started to run massive unproductive federal deficits.

You can also look at the United States in this regard.  It is extraordinary that in a world where the largest economy in the world can run deficits of $1 trillion or more a year during times of full employment and strong economic growth and see interest rates continue to decline to historical lows.  I don’t know a single economist who predicted it.

 

Surprise, Surprise!  Governments Run Budget Surpluses!

The authors are also correct when they say, “Government deficits are normal, surpluses are atypical” (130).  The Keynesians used to favor a countercyclical “balanced budget” policy over time, running deficits during recessions and surpluses during boom times.  But as Milton Friedman commented, “Unfortunately, the balance wheel is unbalanced.”[9]

But there are quite a few robust fully-employed economies that are running budget surpluses in an apparent reject of MMT, including:

Country Surplus (% of GDP)
Macau 25.20%
Qatar 16.10%
Norway 9.10%
United Arab Emirates 5.00%
Singapore 1.30%
Denmark 1.30%
South Korea 0.90%
Hong Kong 0.80%
Sweden 0.30%

Source:  https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/countries-with-the-top-budget-surplus.html

The third way is the easy way out but also potentially more dangerous in destabilizing the economy — printing money.

 

How to Deal with the Threat of Inflation

MWW are opposed to “inflation targeting” because it imposes a high price of persistent high unemployment in order to keep price inflation in check (297-98, 315).  Instead, they propose an “employment buffer” policy, so that when private demand for labor declines, the federal government increases its job guarantees, and when private demand for labor increases, the government reduces its available job offers.  “This targeted approach to sustaining full employment is a powerful stabilizing force for aggregate demand, output, and prices” (302).

 

MWW introduce the “buffer employment ratio” (BER), defined as:

 BER = JGE/E,

 where

 JGE = Job Guarantee employment (by the government)

E = Total employment in the economy.

Thus, “BER rises when the JG pool expands and falls when the JG pool contracts” (304).

Why does this “buffer employment” policy control inflation?  When inflation threatens, MWW advocate tightening fiscal and monetary policy “to reduce the level of private sector demand.  Labour is then transferred from the inflating private sector to the fixed wage JG sector and the BER rises.  This will eventually ease the inflationary pressures arising from the wage-price conflict” (304).

Thus, full employment is achieved at all times while price inflation is held in check.

But will it work?  There are several potential problems.  First, how will labor productivity be affected in a managed economy where unemployment is virtually outlawed?  What incentives are there for workers to be efficient when they know they will be hired by the government if they are laid off by the private sector?

Second, wouldn’t workers in the private sector use the JG to demand higher wages?  MWW claim, “That would be unlikely,” because “the JG lowers the cost of hiring for firms because the JG workers do not experience the dislocation of unemployment and retain most, if not all, of their general and specific skills” (304).  Really?  Who’s to say the shifting from the private sector to public sector employment doesn’t involve dislocations and loss of skills?  And how easy would it be to shift back from public to private employment when the economy recovers?

Third, MWW assume that inflation is cost-push (wage pressure) rather than demand-driven, a dubious assumption in a managed economy that promises guaranteed employment, a living wage, full medical and retirement benefits.

A sharp rise in BER during a severe recession could create enormous burden on the public sector, as JG soar.  How would the government pay for all these JG?  Tax, borrow, print?

Finally, can inflation be stopped once it starts?  Studies show that once inflation gets started, it’s almost impossible to stop without causing a recession.

 

Fear of Runaway Inflation

MWW are well aware of the critics who fear MMT might lead to “creeping inflation” and ultimately “hyperinflation” (342).

“We acknowledge that the in the absence of appropriate oversight, a government can maintain an excessive rate of expenditure which leads to rising inflation.  But we show that the two popular examples of hyperinflation — the Weimar Republic and Zimbabwe — were the result of increasing aggregate supply constraints rather than being driving by excessive fiscal deficits” (333).

According to MWW, Germany’s inflation problem in the early 1920s was caused by excessive demands of the Treaty of Versailles that could not possibly be paid for out of domestic taxation or exports.  And Zimbabwe’s collapse was due to state mismanagement of the commercial farms, which were confiscated by Mugabe’s ruthless regime and turned over to rebels who had “no background in running commercial agriculture” (345).

Still, there’s reason to be concerned that countries adopting MMT might mismanage the economy in other ways.  In response to a severe recession, the government would dramatically increase their JG program, which in turn might result in unproductive “make work” public projects.  The central bank would be pressured into printing more money even as the real economy shrinks.

Sebastian Edwards of the Hoover Institution did an in-depth study of four Latin American countries (Chile, Peru, Argentina, Venezuela) that had adopted varying aspects of MMT (financing large fiscal deficits and “job guarantee” programs through monetary expansion).  He concluded:  “The four experiments ended up badly, with runaway inflation, huge currency devaluations, and precipitous real wage declines.”[10]

 

No Chapter on Economic Growth 

One of the surprising sins of omission in MWW’s Macroeconomics textbook is a chapter on growth theory.  I don’t know a single other textbook that ignores the importance of economic growth these days.  For years, the Keynesian influence after World War II was so strong that the focus in textbooks was on full employment and taming the business cycle based on Keynes’s “General Theory” of unemployed resources and aggregate demand failure.  Economic growth theory was a “special case” relegated to the back chapters.

Harvard professor Greg Mankiw created a counterrevolution in the early 1990s by putting the growth chapter up front in his Macroeconomics (Worth Publishers, 1994), and relegating Keynes’s theories to the back pages as a “special” case.[11]

Now MWW want to go back to the good old days of Paul Samuelson “paradox of thrift” and Abba Lerner “functional finance“ theory of “crude” Keynesianism.

 

Real-World Alternatives to MMT

MWW contend that their textbook Macroeconomics is “grounded in real-world institutions,” yet I was surprised by their failure to cite real-world economies that have achieved strong economic growth and full employment without inflation using more classical economic principles.

Countries can achieve full employment and higher economic growth without inflation by encouraging greater productivity on the supply side, by cutting taxes and regulations, privatizing government-owned businesses and services, and championing saving, capital investment, technology and entrepreneurship.

Figure 2 demonstrates how the supply-side stimulus (AS) can achieve full employment with less inflation.

MODERN MONETARY THEORY

Note the difference between the Keynesian AD policy (figure 1 above) differs from the Supply-Side AS policy (figure 2 above) — the Keynesian deficit spending model increases output and inflation, while the Supply-Side productive model increases out and reduces inflation.

Here are several case studies that adopted the Supply Side Model (not discussed in MWW’s textbook):

Sweden:  In 1992, Sweden suffered a real estate banking crisis, credit crunch, and monetary crisis.  In response, the government guaranteed bank deposits and ran significant deficits.  After the crisis abated, they engaged in a series of reforms to reduce the size of a bloated welfare state by privatizing various government programs; converting their state pension to a defined-contribution plan; adopting school choice in education; cutting corporate and other taxes; and overall reduced the size of government while maintaining its generous welfare system.  Today Sweden has a modest budget surplus.  The average real economic growth in PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) terms in nearly 3% a year.  Price inflation is low.  The unemployment rate is 6.7%, largely due to a generous immigration policy.  Sweden’s Economic Freedom Index has risen to #19 most free in the world.

Canada:  In 1994-95, Canada suffered from an oversized government, resulting in a budget deficit and currency crisis, with Moody’s downgrading Canadian debt.  The Liberal and Conservative parties agreed to severe budget cuts and federal layoffs, despite strong opposition by Keynesian economists.  Two years later, the budget was balanced, and the Canadian dollar made a strong recovery.  Then Canada adopted a series of supply-side tax cuts.  Today the corporate tax rate is only 15%.  The size of government has been reduced, economic growth is over 3% a year, inflation is less than 2% a year, but the unemployment is relatively high at 6.7%.  The budget did fall into deficit during the 2008 financial crisis, but none of the top five banks suffered serious losses.  Canadian budget has improved since then, although the Canadian dollar is weak.  Today Canada (#8) is ahead of the United States (#12) in the Economic Freedom Index.

Singapore:  Economic growth has averaged 3.5% in the past five years, inflation is less than 1%, and unemployment rate is 2%.  Singapore has accumulated substantial budget surpluses ($17.9 billion over the past three years), although it will run a deficit this year.  Singapore has the world’s best medical care system, a combination of health saving accounts (Medisave) and universal coverage of catastrophic illnesses (healthcare represents only 4.5% of GDP).  They have a flat maximum tax rate of 22% for individuals and 17% for businesses.  Singapore has a free-trade zone.  Though it is not a democracy, it is ranked #2 in the world’s Economic Freedom Index.

Chile:  Since Gen. Pinochet stepped down as dictator and Chile adopted democracy in 1990, Chile’s economy continues to do well.  Real economic growth is 2.2% over the past five years, and inflation is at a low 2.2% a year.  The unemployment rate is 7%, largely due to the slump in copper and commodity prices.  After running a surplus budget in 2011-12, the deficit returned but is a manageable 2.5% of GDP.  The maximum tax rate is 44% on individuals and 25% on businesses.  It is the highest rated country in Latin America in the Economic Freedom Index (#18 in the world).

These examples demonstrate that countries can achieve reasonable full employment, good economic growth, and low inflation without resorting to risky MMT policies.

 

Conclusion

There aren’t many cases where a broad range of economists, from Keynesian to Austrian, can agree on something, and MMT is one of them.  Vocal critics have included Paul Krugman, Robert Shiller, Kenneth Rogoff, Larry Summers, Steve Hanke and Robert Murphy.  All agree that MMT is a bad and even dangerous policy.

It seems that MMT advocates are determined to test the validity of Adam Smith famous refrain, “There is a great deal of ruin in a nation.”

I began with a quote from French economist Jacques Rueff.  I will end with his warning:  “No religion spread as fast as the belief in full employment, and in this roundabout way, allowed governments that had exhausted their tax and borrowing resources to resort to the phony delights of monetary inflation.”[12]


[1]   Jacques Rueff, The Age of Inflation (Regnery, 1964), translated by A. H. Meeus and F. G. Clarke, p. xiv.

[2]   William F. Mitchell, L. Randall Wray, and Martin J. Watts, Macroeconomics (Macmillan International and Red Globe Press, 2019), preface.

[3]   See Mark Skousen, Economics on Trial (Irwin Publishing, 1991), and my paper, “The Perseverance of Paul Samuelson’s Economics.” Journal of Economic Perspectives (1997), 11 (2): 137-152.  https://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1257/jep.11.2.137

[4]  Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (Glasgow Edition, 1982), Book IV Chapter II, pp. 456-7, paras. 11-12.

[5] Stephanie Kelton, “How We Think about the Deficit is Mostly Wrong,” New York Times, October 5, 2017.

[6] Robert J. Shiller, “Modern Monetary Theory Makes Sense, Up to a Point,” New York Times, March 2, 2019.  He concludes, “Though increased spending on infrastructure, education, social welfare and the environment may be wise, and rising deficits may make sense some of the time, we really cannot borrow ceaselessly without risking real harm.”

[7] Murray N. Rothbard, Man, Economy and State, 2nd ed. (Mises Institute, 2004 [1962]), p. 1027-1028.

[8]   Ibid., p. 1028.

[9]  Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom (University of Chicago Press, 1962), p. 76.

[10] Sebastian Edwards, “Modern Monetary Theory: Cautionary Tales from Latin America,” Economics Working Paper 19106, Hoover Institution, April 25, 2019.  https://www.hoover.org/research/modern-monetary-theory-cautionary-tales-latin-america

[11]  See Mark Skousen, The Making of Modern Economics, 3rd ed. (Routledge, 2016), pp. 445-448.

[12]   J. Rueff, “La Fin de l’ere keynesienne”, in ´Oeuvres completes de Jacques Rueff, vol. 3, Politique ´economique I (Paris, 1979), 178. This article, originally a lecture delivered to the Mont Pelerin Society, appeared in ` Le Monde on 19 and 20–21 Feb. 1976.  See also https://dailyreckoning.com/homage-to-jacques-rueff/

Steve Forbes on the GO: I Make the Forbes 400 Richest Issue!

I’m mentioned on page 22 for my gross output (GO) model. (Sorry, I may be worth several million, but not several billion!)

Steve Forbes endorses my GO model, saying GO is a “far more comprehensive, realistic and enlightening picture than gross domestic product (GDP). It is like the difference between an X-ray and a CAT scan.” GO measures spending at all stages of production, including the all-important supply chain, and GDP only measures final output.

GO is a leading economic indicator. It has slowed considerably in 2019, suggesting a slowdown, not a recession.

Forbes

 

In his column, Forbes takes federal officials at the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) to task for not releasing GO on a timely basis. He stated, “President Trump should immediately order the BEA to get off its duff and issue GO at the same time it does GDP.”

Indeed, I’m pleased to announce that Brian Moyer, the BEA director, informed me that the agency plans to release both GO and GDP at the same time by next September 2020… not unlike publicly traded companies issuing “top line” (sales) and “bottom line” (profits) reports every quarter. Economics finally has caught up to accounting and finance in the 21st century!

Steve Forbes’ column on GO is now available to read here.

For more information on GO, go to www.grossoutput.com.
Best wishes, AEIOU,
Presidential Fellow, Chapman University
www.mskousen.com

 

MY INTELLECTUAL ANCESTORS

BY MARK SKOUSEN
Presidential Fellow, Chapman University

“If I have seen a little further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
— Sir Isaac Newton

Dear readers,

I thought you’d get a kick out of this series of photos and quotes — looks like some of the great economic philosophers and writers rubbed off on me!

I’ll try not to get it go to my head…..I still get rejection letters from the American Economic Review!

Henry_Hazlit_tribute_1984

Courtesy:  Mises Institute

My paying tribute to Henry Hazlitt and his classic book, “Economics in One Lesson” in celebration of his 90th birthday (1984)

“Mark Skousen is America’s finest economist.  He has a genius for explaining complex issues in a clear way and connecting ideas.  He is the Henry Hazlitt of our time.”
– Steve Mariotti, President, National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE)

MAS_with_Friedrich Hayek_Austria_1985_01

Courtesy:  John Mauldin, 1985

Interviewing Friedrich Hayek in the Austrian alps in 1985

“Mark Skousen is America’s leading economic author because he roots his luminous books in the real world, in the grand tradition of the great Austrian economists.  He is the Hayek of our era.”
– George Gilder

MAS_with_Milton Friedman_San_Francisco_2006_01

Courtesy:  photo by Van Simmons

Meeting with Milton Friedman in his favorite San Francisco restaurant, 2006

“Mark Skousen has emerged as one of the clearest writers on all matters economic today, the next Milton Friedman!” 
– Michael Shermer, Scientific American

Trade War Threatens Recession

Washington, DC (Monday, July 29, 2019):

On July 19, 2019, the federal government released gross output (GO) for the 1st quarter 2019, and the 1.6% real-term growth — which was 30% lower than the 2.3% advancement from the previous period – strengthened the implication that the economic growth might be slowing.  Business-to-business (B2B) in the supply chain actually declined in the first quarter.

While corporate tax cuts and the elimination of some of the burdensome business regulations undoubtedly had positive effects on economic growth, the effects of tariffs and trade restrictions are significantly higher, as trade plays a much bigger role in the US and world economy. Trade accounts for more than 25% of spending in the US economy and nearly 60% of the global economy.

Whereas GO growth decreased in the first quarter after rising in the tree previous periods, GDP reversed direction after falling for three consecutive quarters and advanced at 3.1%, which was nearly 30% higher than the 2.2% growth rate from the fourth-quarter 2018.  But the decline in the value of the supply chain suggests that the rise in real GDP is temporary.

Total spending on new goods and services (adjusted GO) [1] exceeded $45 trillion by a small margin. In line with the GO indications, B2B spending declined 0.3% (0.4% in real terms) and consumer spending expanded 1.4% (0.5% in real terms), which was lower than the 2.2% consumer spending growth rate from the previous period.

Business — Not Consumers — Drives the Economy

Note:  Contrary to what the media says, consumer spending does not drive the economy, and does not represent two-thirds of the economy. Using GO as a better, more accurate measure of total spending in the economy, the business sector (B2B spending) is almost twice the size as consumer spending. Consumer spending is the effect, not the cause, of prosperity (Say’s law).

The continued slowdown in business spending suggests a potential economic slowdown and the end of the longest bull market since the Great Depression, if business spending growth stalls. However, the trend might still reverse on a potential resolution of the trade conflict as Trump Administration’s delegation is heading to China for the next round of trade negotiations.

Furthermore, the overall economy and markets are waiting in anticipation for the results of the Federal Open Market Committee meetings next Tuesday and Wednesday. The primary interest is whether the Fed will decide to counter its quarter-point hike from December 2018 and revert its target rate back to 2% to 2.25%, or go even further and announce a half-point interest rate reduction to June-2018 levels.

The fears of continued trade war with China has certainly influenced business spending slowdown. However, positive impressions from the upcoming trade negotiations with China and a potential Fed funds rate cut of up to half percent might alleviate some of the reservations, which could result in a renewed push to increase business spending in the second half of the year.

In addition to a lower growth of the overall GO, more sectors experienced a decline – five in the first-quarter 2019 versus only two in the fourth-quarter 2018. However, on the positive side, government spending rose only 1.5% in nominal terms at annual rates, which was the lowest growth rate in the past seven quarters.

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.”

Whenever GO is growing faster than GDP, as it did in most of 2018, it’s a positive sign that the economy is still robust and growing.  However, GO has grown at a slower pace than the GDP in the last two quarters.

The advance estimate of second-quarter GDP was released on July 26, 2019. As implied by the slower GO growth in the first quarter, the second-quarter GDP rose at 2.1% in real terms, which is 32% lower than the 3.1% advancement from the first quarter 2019.

Report on Various Sectors of the Economy

After growing at double-digit percentages and nearly doubling over four quarters, the Mining sector pulled back 7.2% in the fourth quarter 2018. Unfortunately, the Mining sector extended its decline and contracted more than 26% on an annualized basis for the first-quarter 2019. The Mining sector comprises only 1.6% of the entire Gross Output and the first-quarter decline has only a small impact on the overall economic output in the current period. However, the Mining sector is one of the early stages of production and often an early indicator of potential economic downturns in the near future.

Similarly, the Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting sector – another early stage of production sector – also contracted 1.5%. Furthermore, Manufacturing – the second-largest segment with 17% share of Gross Output – declined 3.7%. One promising development within the Manufacturing sector was that production of Durable Goods increased 4%. Non-durable Goods declined 11.7%. Additionally, Transportation & Warehousing — another indicator of economic activity strength — also contracted 5.6%.

Among the expanding sectors, Construction – 4.6% share of GO – advanced at an annualized rate of nearly 12%, Educational services, health care, and social assistance, which accounts for 8.2% share of GO expanded 7.6%. Also, the largest sector that accounts for 19% of GO – Finance, insurance, real estate, rental, and leasing – expanded 2.2%.

Total government spending accounted for 10.6% of the total GO spending and increased 1.5% in the first-quarter 2019, which is significantly lower than the 3.5% growth in the previous quarter. This growth rate is the lowest since the second quarter 2017. While federal government increased 2.4%, state and local government expanded only 1.1%, which is less than one-third the 3.5% growth from the previous period. Additionally, the federal government grew more than state and local governments for the first time since the second quarter 2016.

Trade

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. Until mid-2018, GO outpaced GDP, suggesting a growing economy.  However, since then GO has slowed dramatically, threatening the economic boom.

Currently Business Spending (B2B) Is Advanced at a Slower Pace Than Consumer Spending in both Nominal and Real Terms.

Our business-to-business (B2B) index is also useful. It measures all the business spending in the supply chain and new private capital investment. Nominal B2B activity pulled back 0.3% in the first quarter to slightly below $26 trillion. Meanwhile, consumer spending rose to $14.24 trillion, which is equivalent to a 1.4% annualized growth rate. In real terms, B2B activity declined at an annualized rate of 0.4% and consumer spending rose at 0.5%.

Trade

“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. “The business activity slowed considerably in the 4th and 1st quarters, although it could be a temporary situation, depending on trade policy.”

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 new output statistic 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 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 provided 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: BEA – Gross Output by Industry

For more information on Gross Output (GO), the Skousen B2B Index, and their relationship to GDP, see the following:

To interview Dr. Mark Skousen on this press release, contact him at [email protected], or Ned Piplovic, Media Relations at [email protected]

# # #

________________________________________
[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 2019 1st quarter is slightly above $37.25 trillion. By including gross sales at the wholesale and retail level, the adjusted GO increases to nearly $45 trillion in Q1 2019. Thus, the BEA omits almost $8 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.