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]

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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 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.


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