Announcement

Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) during the first quarter (January through March) of 2004 increased at an annual rate of 4.2 percent.

Announcement

Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) during the first quarter (January through March) of 2004 increased at an annual rate of 4.2 percent. This is the first release of the estimate and will be followed by two revisions over the next two months. This compares to rates of 8.2 and 4.1 percent in the previous two quarters.

The growth rates in real GDP in 2001, 2002, and 2003 were .3, 2.2, and 3.1 percent.

Meaning of the Announcement

The U.S. economy was in a recession during most of 2001 and experienced only modest growth in real GDP in 2002 and early 2003. The growth has increased significantly beginning in the middle of 2003, as real GDP increased at an annual rate of 6.1 percent over the last six months of the year.

Employment fell and unemployment increased for much of the time since the recession ended in November of 2001. Only in the last three months has employment started to rise at a pace greater than a pace that would simply keep unemployment rates steady.

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.

Why are Changes in Real Gross Domestic Product Important?

The measurement of the production of goods and services produced each year permits us to evaluate our monetary and fiscal polices, our investment and saving patterns, the quality of our technological advances, and our material well-being. Changes in real GDP per capita provide our best measures of changes in our material standards of living.

While rates of inflation and unemployment and changes in our income distribution provide us additional measures of the successes and weaknesses of our economy, none is a more important indicator of our economy's health than rates of change in real GDP.

Changes in real GDP are discussed in the press and on the nightly news after every monthly announcement of the latest quarter's data or revision. This current increase in real GDP will be discussed in news reports as a sign that the economy may have already come out of the recession that began in March of last year.

Real GDP trends are prominently included in discussions of potential slowdowns and economic booms. They are featured in many discussions of trends in stock prices. Economic commentators use falls in real GDP as indicators of recessions. The most popular (although inaccurate) definition of a recession is at least two consecutive quarters of declining real GDP. See below for a discussion of the current recession.

Data Trends

The growth in real GDP at the end of the 1990s was relatively high when compared with the early part of the 1990s. However, during the last two quarters of 2000, the rate of growth of real gross domestic product slowed significantly (with a decrease in the third quarter of 2000). During the first three quarters of 2001, real gross domestic product fell as the U.S. economy entered a recession in March of 2001 lasting through November of 2001. The negative changes in real GDP were the first since 1993.

The Federal Reserve responded to slowing growth and the recession by reducing the target federal funds rate by 475 basis points (4.75%) from January 2001 to December 2001 and then two more times since. The most recent was in June of 2003. (See Federal Reserve and Monetary Policy Cases.) The effects of stimulative monetary policy and the resulting low interest rates and a stimulative fiscal policy helped increase consumer and investment spending during and since the recession.

Inflation remains low but is likely to be of more concern to policy makers as the economy continues to grow. The price index for GDP increased at an annual rate of 2.5 percent during the first quarter of 2004, compared to an increase of 1.7 percent during 2003. It increased at an annual rate of 1.5 percent for 2002, compared to 2.4 percent for 2001.

Details of the Fourth-Quarter Changes in Real GDP

The major contributors to the increase in real GDP were the increases in consumption spending, business investment, and spending on national defense. There was also a small increase in exports and a slower rate of growth in imports, together contributing to a more rapid rise in real GDP.

Gross private domestic investment increased at an annual rate of 7.2 percent during the first quarter of 2004, compared to an increase of 14.9 percent in the last quarter of 2003. For all of 2003, investment spending increased by 4.2 percent.

First quarter exports increased by 3.2 percent (compared to a increase of 20.5 percent in the previous quarter) and imports increased by 2.0 percent (compared to an increase of 16.4 percent in the previous quarter). Net exports therefore rose slightly during the quarter.

GDP, Productivity, and Unemployment

A major factor in the continued growth in the American economy, as seen in the sound increase of 4.2% in real GDP in the first quarter, is the continued improvement in productivity.

Productivity, defined as the amount of output per hour of work, increased at an annual rate of 3.5% in the first quarter and 2.5% growth in the previous quarter. With rapid rates of increase in productivity, businesses are able to gain more output from the same or only a slight increase in the number of workers, boosting economic results. This explains how the economy was able to grow strongly in 2003 even as the unemployment rate stayed high and employment grew only slowly.

The Federal Reserve has stated in its recent releases that continued productivity growth is a key component in the continued growth in the American economy. Businesses are able to keep costs low by reducing the need to hire new employees to create growth. The most important cause of this productivity growth has been investment in information technology and software. This growth allowed the Fed to cut rates more than it would otherwise, as inflationary pressures are reduced. Alan Greenspan has repeatedly cited productivity growth and was one of the first to view the 1990's boom in technology spending as a period of sustainable growth above historical levels. Eventually, continued productivity and economic growth will spur new investment and hiring.

Recessions

On November 26, 2001, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) announced though its Business Cycle Dating Committee that it had determined that a peak in business activity occurred in March of 2001. That signals the official beginning of a recession. More recently the NBER announced that the recession actually ended in November of 2001.

The NBER defines a recession as a "significant decline in activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, visible in industrial production, employment, real income, and wholesale-retail trade."

The previous recession began in July of 1990 and ended in March of 1991, a period of eight months. However, the beginning of the recession was not announced until April of 1991 (after the recession had actually ended). The end of the recession was announced in December of 1992, almost 21 months later. One of the reasons the ends of that recession and the most recent one were so difficult to determine was that the economy did not grow very rapidly even after it came out a period of falling output and income.

For the full press release from the National Bureau of Economic Research see: [EEL-link id='1339' title='http://cycles-www.nber.org/cycles.html' ]

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 70 percent of GDP in the first quarter.

  • Durable goods are items such as cars, furniture, and appliances, which are used for several years (9%).
  • Non-durable goods are items such as food, clothing, and disposable products, which are used for only a short time period (21%).
  • 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 (41%).

Investment spending (I) consists of non-residential fixed investment, residential investment, and inventory changes. Investment spending accounts for 15 percent of GDP, but varies significantly from year to year.

  • Non-residential 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 (10%).
  • Residential investment is the building of a new homes or apartments (5%).
  • Inventory changes consist of changes in the level of stocks of goods necessary for production and finished goods ready to be sold (0%).

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 (19%) does not include transfer payments such as Social Security, unemployment compensation, and welfare payments, which do not represent production of goods and services. Federal defense spending now accounts for approximately 5 percent of GDP. State and local spending on goods and services accounts for 12 percent of GDP.

Net Exports (NX) is equal to exports minus imports. Exports are items produced in the U.S. and purchased by foreigners (10%). Imports are items produced by foreigners and purchased by U.S. consumers (14%). Thus, net exports (exports minus imports) are negative, about - 4% of the GDP.

Questions

  1. What happens to real GDP as investment spending increases?
     
  2. What happens to investment spending as real GDP increases?
     
  3. What is the difference or the similarity?

A trade deficit

In the latest monthly announcement of U.S. international trade conditions, the Department of Commerce reported that total March exports of $95 billion and imports of $141 billion resulted in a goods and services trade deficit of $46 billion, $4 billion more than the $42 billion than the revised February amount.

If the trade deficit continues at this same pace for a year, the deficit in trade would be almost $550 billion dollars or almost 5 percent of GDP. Such a deficit, particularly when many are concerned about U.S. jobs, often results in political pressure to use tariffs and quotas to reduce imports to protect American business and employment. The goal of such a policy is to make imports more expensive and cause consumers and businesses to switch to domestically produced goods. The intended final result then is to increase employment and decrease unemployment in the U.S.

However, such a policy is counterproductive.

Additional Questions

  1. What will happen to imports with the placing of tariffs on imported goods?
     
  2. What will likely happen to exports?
     
  3. What will likely happen to U.S. employment?

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.
 

  1. A sound system produced and sold in the U.S. by a Chinese company
     
  2. College tuition

  3. Social Security payments

  4. Microsoft stock purchased from Microsoft

  5. A space shuttle launch
     
  6. The purchase of a plane ticket to London on British Airways
     
  7. The purchase of a U.S. Treasury Bond by an individual
     
  8. A new factory
     
  9. The sale of a previously occupied house
     
  10. A jacket made in Mexico and sold in the U.S.
     
  11. A television produced, but not sold.
     
  12. A home cooked meal
     
  13. A dinner at a restaurant
     
  14. A computer produced in the U.S. and sold in Canada
     
  15. A new interstate highway