Washington, DC (Friday, January 19, 2018): Gross output (GO), the top line of national accounting that measures spending at all stages of production, gained momentum in the 3rd quarter 2017.

Based on data released on Friday, January 19, 2018 by the BEA and adjusted to include all sales throughout the production process, nominal adjusted GO (GO*) increased at an annualized rate of 4.3% in the third quarter of 2017, which a significant improvement over the previous quarter’s increase of 2.9%[1].  However, nominal adjusted GO for the third quarter of 2017 rose at a slightly lower rate than the 5.2% nominal GDP growth.

Mark Skousen, editor of Forecasts & Strategies and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University, states, “The latest GO data indicates that the economy was poised for strong expansion in 2018 even before the tax reduction bill that was passed in December 2017.”

Real GDP, the bottom line of national income accounting, rose at an annualized rate of 3.1% in the third quarter 2017.  During an economic expansion, real GO* generally grows at a higher rate than real GDP, however, in Q3 2017, real GO* grew at 2.7%.

Skousen states, “By focusing solely on final spending and the end of the economic chain, GDP can sometimes be a misleading indicator of economic performance. GO is a much better, more comprehensive view of total economic activity along the entire supply chain.  While GDP has grown faster than GO in the 2nd and 3rd quarters of 2017, both are showing a strong positive outlook for the economy.”

Furthermore, according to a recent study by David Ranson, chief economist at HCWE & Co., GO anticipates changes in GDP by as much as 12 weeks in advance and thus serves as a reliable leading indicator:  However, the difference between GO and GDP in the most recent quarters has been relatively small.

The Skousen B2B Index, a measure of business spending throughout the supply chain, increased at 4.2% in Q3, which is significantly higher than the 2.6% growth rate from the previous quarter. The significant growth in the third quarter indicates that business spending might be back to its 4%-plus growth rate it had prior to the lackluster performance in the second quarter. In the third quarter, B2B transactions rose at an annual rate of 2.7% in real terms, which is nearly double the 1.4% rate form the previous quarter.

After a growth slowdown in the second quarter, the adjusted GO resumed growing at more than 4% and increased to reach $41.7 trillion. The current adjusted GO reached $41.7 trillion, more than double the size of GDP ($19.5 trillion), which measures final output only.

The overall growth of GO in the third quarter resulted from the growth in all but three industrial sectors. The spending increase in the early stages of production, such as manufacturing, is usually a reliable leading economic indicator that overall economic growth should continue to expand.

Supply Chain Activity Continues Increasing

The mining sector growth subsided a little from its 8.3% growth rate last period, but still rose at 4.7% in the third quarter of 2017. While it is important to monitor the growth rate in the mining sector as an early indicator of economic expansion, the mining sector accounts for just 1.4% share of total GO, which minimizes the impact on the overall GO. However, the manufacturing sector accounts for nearly a fifth of total GO (18% share). Therefore, the 5.6% annualized growth of the manufacturing sector has a much greater positive impact on the total GO and should be an even better indicator of an accelerated economic expansion to come. Just as a reference, the manufacturing sector rose just 1.2% in the previous quarter. The 7.5% growth rate for durable goods was more than twice the rate for non-durable goods, which rose 3.5% in the third quarter.

Another sector with an 18% share of GO is the finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing sector. While the sector expanded 2.8% in the third quarter, the expansion was significantly lower than it was in the second quarter when this sector grew at a 7.0% annualized rate in nominal terms. Additionally the real estate, rental and leasing sub-segment drove this expansion by growing at 3.6% versus the Finance and insurance sub-segment, which grew at 1.6%.

Compared to the previous quarter, spending fell significantly in only three sectors and the largest drop of 10.6% was in the Utilities sector. While the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting sector was down 3.6%, historically this sector tends to have no growth or slight downturn in the second half of the year. However, these two sectors combine to less than 3% total share of GO and did not have a significantly negative effect on the overall GO. The largest drop of 4.2% was in the Transportation and warehousing sector, which accounts for 3.3% share of GO. These three sectors combined account for a 5.6% share of the total GO. Therefore, the negative performance of these few sectors had no noticeable impact on the overall GO growth.

Total government spending (11% share of total GO) increased 3.6% in the second quarter. This growth rate is 24% higher than last quarter’s 2.9% growth rate. The federal government grew at an annualized rate of 3.2% in nominal terms and state and local government grew at a slightly higher rate of 3.8%.

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.  Recently quarterly GO and GDP have both been growing at a similar pace.

Business Spending (B2B) Grows Faster Than Consumer Spending

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 increased 4.2% to $23.9 trillion. Meanwhile, consumer spending rose to $13.4 trillion in the first quarter, which is equivalent to a 3.7% annualized growth rate. In real terms, B2B activity rose at an annualized rate of 2.7% and consumer spending rose 1.6%.

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. “The business activity is heating up again in the third quarter of 2017, potentially because the business community saw early indications that President Trump and Congress were serious about trying to pass a tax reform bill before the end of 2017.”

About GO and B2B Index

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

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

Click here: Structure of Production on Amazon

The BEA’s decision in 2014 to publish GO on a quarterly basis in its “GDP by Industry” data is a major achievement in national income accounting. GO is the first output statistic to be published on a quarterly basis since GDP was invented in the 1940s.

The BEA now defines GDP in terms of GO. GDP is defined as “the value of the goods and services produced by the nation’s economy [GO] less the value of the goods and services used up in production (Intermediate Inputs or II].” See definitions at

With GO and GDP being produced on a timely basis, the federal government now offers a complete system of accounts. As Dale Jorgenson, Steve Landefeld, and William Nordhaus conclude in their book, A New Architecture for the U. S. National Accounts, “Gross output [GO] is the natural measure of the production sector, while net output [GDP] is appropriate as a measure of welfare. Both are required in a complete system of accounts.”

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

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

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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 2017 3rd quarter is $33.8 trillion. By including gross sales at the wholesale and retail level, the adjusted GO is $41.7 trillion in Q3 2017. Thus, the BEA omits nearly $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.

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