Focus on Economic Data: Gross Domestic Product - August 2001
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Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) during the second quarter (April through June) of 2001 increased at an annual rate of 0.2 percent. This is the "preliminary" estimate for second quarter and will be revised in the "final" estimate to be released next month. During the first quarter of 2001, real GDP increased at an annual rate of 1.3 percent. For the year 2000, real GDP increased at annual rates of 2.3, 5.7, 1.3, and 1.9 percent in each of the four quarters. This slowing rate of growth throughout 2000 has continued through the most recent two quarters. The growth over the last 12 months has been 1.2 percent. That compares with a more than 4 percent annual growth over the last several years.
Definition of Gross Domestic Product
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is one measure of economic activity, the total amount of goods and services produced in the United States in a year. It is calculated by adding together the market values of all of the final goods and services produced in a year.
- It is a gross measurement because it includes the total amount of goods and services produced, some of which are simply replacing goods that have depreciated or have worn out.
- It is domestic production because it includes only goods and services produced within the U.S.
- It measures current production because it includes only what was produced during the year.
- It is a measurement of the final goods produced because it does not include the value of a good when sold by a producer, again when sold by the distributor, and once more when sold by the retailer to the final customer. We count only the final sale.
Changes in GDP from one year to the next reflect changes in the output of goods and services and changes in their prices. To provide a better understanding of what actually is occurring in the economy, real GDP is also calculated. In fact, these changes are more meaningful, as the changes in real GDP show what has actually happened to the quantities of goods and services, independent of changes in prices.
The growth in real GDP over the past few years has been relatively high when compared with the early part of the 1990s. However, during the last two quarters of 2000 and the first two quarters of 2001, the rate of growth of real gross domestic product slowed tremendously. During the second quarter of 2001, the rate of increase in real GDP was the slowest in eight years, reinforcing concerns that our economy is headed into a recession. The last recession began in July of 1990 and continued through March of 1991.
The Federal Reserve has responded to slowing growth and the potential of recession by reducing the target federal funds rate by 300 basis points (3%) from January 2001 to August 2001. (See the May Federal Reserve System and Monetary Policy case and the upcoming October 2 Federal Reserve case.)
The price index for GDP increased at an annual rate of 2.2 percent in the second quarter of 2001, compared to 2.3 percent for 2000.
The rate of increase in real GDP has been higher in the last several years than in the first part of the 1990s and much of the 1970s and 1980s. Economic growth, as measured by average annual changes in real GDP, was 4.4 percent in the 1960s. Average rates of growth decreased during the 1970s (3.3%), the 1980s (3.0%), and the first half of the 1990s (2.2%). In the last five years of the 1990s, the rate of growth in real GDP increased to 3.8 percent, with the last three years and the entire year of 2000 being over 4.1 percent per year.
The upward trend in economic growth over the past decade has been accompanied by increases in the rates of growth of consumption spending, investment spending, and exports. Productivity increases, decreases in unemployment, expansion in the labor force, and increases in the amount of capital have allowed real GDP to grow at the faster rates. During this same time period, consumers have reduced their savings.
Details of the Second-Quarter Changes in Real GDP
The rate of increase in real GDP in the second quarter is slower than the rate of increase in the first quarter of 2001. Personal consumption, government spending and residential investment increased during the second quarter. However, these increases were offset by decreases in inventory investment and in business purchases of equipment and software. Imports, which are subtracted from real GDP, decreased, and exports, which are added to real GDP, decreased as well. Thus the effect of the changes in net exports was to increase spending in the economy.
Consumers continued to increase spending, but at a slower rate of increase. Real consumption spending increased at an annual rate of 2.5 percent, as compared to 3.5 percent for the previous three quarters. There is indication that the growth in consumer spending slowed each month during the quarter.
Real investment decreased by 12.3 percent during both the first and second quarters. The largest part of the decrease in investment spending was due to a reduction in residential and non-residential fixed investment, such as equipment and software. Businesses increased their inventories following decreases throughout 2000.
Exports decreased by 12.2 percent (compared to a decrease of 1.2 percent in the fourth quarter) and imports decreased by 7.7 percent (compared to a decrease of 5.0 percent in the fourth quarter). Real government spending increased at an annual rate of 5.4 percent.
The slowing growth in spending appears to be caused by consumers reducing the growth in their spending and businesses actually reducing the amount of investment spending. Both events result in businesses further cutting investment in equipment and inventories, as not as much of either is needed. Businesses may reduce spending further. Consumers might become less confident about the future and reduce spending. In either case, total spending can still fall.
Monetary policy has been used to encourage consumers to increase spending and businesses to increase investment. In addition, there is much discussion and debate about the effects of the current tax rebates. The short-run effects should be some stimulus to spending.
Changes in Nominal Gross Domestic Product
Nominal GDP ? that is, GDP measured in current prices ? increased at annual rate of 2.4 percent in the second quarter to a level of $10,201.6 billion. The difference between the rates of increase in the nominal gross domestic product (2.4%) and the real gross domestic product (0.2%) is the rate of change in prices of goods and services included in gross domestic product. Those prices are represented by the GDP deflator (or price index), which increased at an annual rate of 2.2 percent.
A Hint About News Reports
Many news reports simply use "gross domestic product" as a term to describe this announcement. The actual announcement focuses on the REAL gross domestic product, and that is the meaningful part of the report. In addition, newspapers will often refer to the rate of growth during the most recent quarter and will not always refer to the fact that it is reported at annual rates of change. This is contrasted to the reports of the consumer price index, which are reported at actual percentage changes in the index for a single month, and not at annual rates.
Explanations of GDP and its Components
It is common to see the following equation in economics textbooks:
|GDP = C + I + G + NX|
Consumption spending (C) consists of consumer spending on goods and services. It is often divided into spending on durable goods, non-durable goods, and services. These purchases accounted for 69 percent of GDP in the first quarter.
- Durable goods are items such as cars, furniture, and appliances, which are used for several years (10%) .
- Non-durable goods are items such as food, clothing, and disposable products, which are used for only a short time period (20%).
- Services include rent paid on apartments (or estimated values for owner-occupied housing), airplane tickets, legal and medical advice or treatment, electricity and other utilities. Services are the fastest growing part of consumption spending (39%).
Investment spending (I) consists of nonresidential fixed investment, residential investment, and inventory changes. Investment spending accounts for 18 percent of GDP, but varies significantly from year to year.
- Nonresidential fixed investment is the creation of tools and equipment to use in the production of other goods and services. Examples are the building of factories, the production of new machines, and the manufacturing of computers for business use (14%).
- Residential investment is the building of a new homes or apartments (4%).
- Inventory changes consist of changes in the level of stocks of goods necessary for production and finished goods ready to be sold (less than 1%).
Government spending (G) consists of federal, state, and local government spending on goods and services such as research, roads, defense, schools, and police and fire departments. This spending does not include transfer payments such as Social Security, unemployment compensation, and welfare payments, which do not represent production of goods and services (17%).
Net Exports (NX) is equal to exports minus imports. Exports are items produced in the US and purchased by foreigners (12%). Imports are items produced by foreigners and purchased by US consumers (16%). Thus, net exports (exports minus imports) are negative, about -4% of the GDP. (For more information on the balance of trade, see the Trade Report case study.)
Revisions in GDP Announcements
Real GDP for each quarter is announced three times. The month following the end of the quarter is described as the advance GDP; the second announcement or revision is described as the preliminary announcement; and the third month is the final. While labeled as the final version, even it will eventually be revised after the final data for the year are published. Over the past five quarters, the advance estimates have been revised by +0.1 to -0.7 percent with an average decrease of 0.3 in the rate of growth of GDP and the preliminary estimates have been revised by +0.3 to -0.5 percent with an average decrease of 0.1 in the rate of growth of GDP.
Revisions in inventory investment and the international trade data are often the causes of changes in the GDP figures. Because changes in inventories and international trade data make up significant portions of the current report, one should be particularly cautious in using the "advance" figures.
GDP as a Measure of Well-Being
Changes in real GDP are a more accurate representation of meaningful economic growth than changes in nominal GDP, because changes in real GDP represent changes in quantities produced, while prices are held constant. Real GDP per capita is even more relevant because it measures goods and services produced per person and thus approximates the amount of goods and services each person can enjoy. If real GDP grows, but the population grows faster, then each person, on average, is actually worse off than the change in real GDP would indicate.
Consider the table below. While the mainland part of China has a real GDP of $991 billion, its real GDP per capita is only $791.30. Hong Kong has a much smaller real GDP of $159 billion; however, its real GDP per capita is much higher at $23,639.58. Other nations, such as France and Germany, may have quite different GDPs, but real GDPs per capita that are very close.
|Country||Population||GDP (billions)||Per Capita GDP|
|China (Hong Kong)||
|1999 Real GDP in billions of current US dollars (International Monetary Fund)|
Components of GDP
Determine if each of the items listed below should be included in GDP and under which component or components: Consumption, Investment, Government, Exports or Imports.
- A stereo produced and sold in the U.S. by a Japanese company
- College tuition
- Social Security payments
- Microsoft stock purchased from Microsoft
- A space shuttle launch
- The purchase of a plane ticket to London on British Airways
- The purchase of a U.S. Treasury Bond by an individual
- A new factory
- The sale of a previously occupied house
- A bottle of French wine, sold in the U.S.
- A television produced, but not sold.
- A home-cooked meal
- A dinner at a restaurant
- A computer produced in the U.S. and sold in Canada
- A new interstate freeway
Other Questions for Students
- Given the following data (in billions of current dollars), calculate the current level of gross domestic product.
|Social security payments||500|
|Income tax receipts||1,000|
|Business purchases of new factories and equipment and changes in inventories||1,500|
|Federal government spending on goods and services||550|
|Construction of new homes||200|
|State and local spending on goods and services||1,300|
- If gross domestic product increases by 10 percent over a year, are we better off? Why or why not?
- Increases in real GDP represent more production of goods and services. Why would the Federal Reserve ever undertake a policy to slow down the rate of growth in production?
- If consumers begin to purchase automobiles manufactured abroad instead of those manufactured in the U.S., what will happen to real GDP? Will the answer be different if consumers are simply increasing their spending and those purchases are of automobiles manufactured abroad?
- Why are wages and profits not included in gross domestic product?
Original Bureau of Economic Analysis Press Release