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This lesson focuses on the August 26, 2011, second estimate of U.S. real gross domestic product (real GDP) and real GDP growth for the second quarter (Q2) of 2011, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). The current data and historical data are explained. The meaning of GDP and potential impacts of changes of GDP are explored. This lesson will also raise questions about the impact of the current level of growth on the U.S. economy and individuals.

KEY CONCEPTS

Business Cycles, Economic Growth, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Macroeconomic Indicators, Nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Per Capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Potential Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

STUDENTS WILL

  • Determine the current, recent and historical growth of U.S. real gross domestic product.
  • Identify the components of the measurement of the nation's gross domestic product.
  • Assess the relationship of real GDP data, the indexes of economic indicators, and business cycles.
  • Speculate about the nature and impact of current economic conditions on consumers and producers, and implications for the future.

Current Key Economic Indicators

as of May 5, 2013

Inflation

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers decreased 0.2 percent in March after increasing 0.7 percent in February. The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.1 percent in March after rising 0.2 percent in February.

Employment and Unemployment

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 165,000 in April, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 7.5 percent. Employment increased in professional and business services, food services and drinking places, retail trade, and health care.

Real GDP

Real gross domestic product increased at an annual rate of 2.5 percent in the first quarter of 2013 (that is, from the fourth quarter to the first quarter), according to the "advance" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the fourth quarter, real GDP increased 0.4 percent.

Federal Reserve

To support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability, the Committee expects that a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy will remain appropriate for a considerable time after the asset purchase program ends and the economic recovery strengthens. In particular, the Committee decided to keep the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and currently anticipates that this exceptionally low range for the federal funds rate will be appropriate at least as long as the unemployment rate remains above 6-1/2 percent...

INTRODUCTION

Each month, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, releases an estimate of the level and growth of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States.

This lesson focuses on the BEA's second estimate of real GDP released on August 26, 2011, for the second quarter (April, May and June) of 2011. The first estimate for Q2 2011 was made in July. Understanding the level and rate of growth of the economy's output (GDP) helps to better understand growth, employment trends, the health of the business sector, and consumer well-being.

[Note to teachers: During the first half of the 2011-2012 school year (August-December), EconEdLink will publish five Focus on Economic Data lessons on U.S. Real GDP Growth.

GDP data is announced three times for each fiscal quarter. For Q2 2011, the first estimate is made in July, the second estimate is made in August, and the third (final) estimate for Q2 is made in September.

GDP data reports lag the reporting period - fiscal quarter. The current estimate is for Q2 (April-June, 2011). Each of the three estimates for a quarter will be based on more complete and comprehensive data, and may modify the growth rate reported previously.

The BEA previously used the terms "advance, preliminary and final" to identify the three quarterly real GDP estimates. The terms "first, second and third" have replaced the previous announcement language.]


Fall Semester 2011-2012 Real GDP "Focus on Economic Data" Lessons:

Each Real GDP lesson will provide the most up-to-date data and focus on some specific topics or issues related to GDP:

  • August 26, 2011 (second estimate for Q2 2011): What are GDP, real GDP, per capita GDP, potential GDP. Recent history of real GDP.
  • September 29, 2011 (third estimate for Q2 2011): GDP and business cycles, indicators of future growth or decline.
  • October 27, 2011 (advance estimate for Q3 2011): Factors influencing the change in GDP, revisions, and seasonal adjustments. How the data is collected.
  • November 22, 2011 (second estimate for Q3 2011): U.S. regional economic growth comparisons and international comparisons.
  • December 22, 2011 (third estimate for Q3 2011): Year-end summary and GDP-related current issues.

MATERIALS

  • Measuring the Economy: A Primer on GDP and the National Income and Product Accounts: This BEA article introduces new users to the basics of U.S. national income and product accounts.
    www.bea.gov/national/pdf/nipa_primer.pdf
  • Global Business Cycle Indicators: This site produced by The Conference Board, provides business cycle indicators for 11 countries around the world.
    www.conference-board.org/data/bci.cfm
  • NBER determination of the December 2008 Peak in Economic Activity: This is the NBER recession announcement made on December 1, 2008. 
    www.nber.org/cycles/dec2008.html

Key Economic Indicators

as of August 26, 2011

Inflation

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the CPI-U increased 0.5 percent in July after falling 0.2 percent in June. The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.2 percent in July after increasing 0.3 percent in June.

Employment and Unemployment

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 117,000 in July, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 9.1 percent. Job gains occurred in health care, retail trade, manufacturing, and mining. Government employment continued to trend down.

Real GDP

Real gross domestic product increased at an annual rate of 1.0 percent in the second quarter of 2011, (that is, from the first quarter to the second quarter), according to the "second" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the first quarter, real GDP increased 0.4 percent.

Federal Reserve

To promote the ongoing economic recovery and to help ensure that inflation, over time, is at levels consistent with its mandate, the Committee (FOMC) decided today to keep the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent. The Committee currently anticipates that economic conditions--including low rates of resource utilization and a subdued outlook for inflation over the medium run--are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels for the federal funds rate at least through mid-2013.

PROCESS

First, What are GDP and Real GDP?

Simply put, gross domestic product (GDP) measures "the market value of the goods and services produced by labor and property in the United States."  This is the definition used by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. http://www.bea.gov/industry/iotables/glossary.htm

Real GDP, also in simple terms, is the nation's GDP adjusted for the effect of a change in the price level (inflation or deflation.)  Thus, it is a measure of "real" growth without the impact inflation.

Normally, GDP is measured in annual terms (the sum of four quarters) and the GDPs of various nations are compared on an annual basis.  U.S. GDP growth is reported quarterly and then on an annual basis.

While GDP is considered an indicator of economic progress, it is not necessarily a measure of well-being or quality of life (standard of living), because it does not account such factors as income distribution, rates of poverty, crime, or literacy. GDP measures the nation's output of goods and services - and is generally related to levels of employment, and income.

Real per capita GDP, the nation's GDP divided by the nation's population, may be a better indicator of people's well-being. A nation may have a very large GDP, but if the population is also very large, each individual may not benefit as much as if that nation has a smaller population.  China has a relatively large GDP, but it also has a very large population.  It may also matter is the nation's income is evenly or unevenly distributed among the population.  If a few are very rich and many are poor, the "average" may not be meaningful.

In 2010, U.S. per capita real GDP was about $47,200, according to the CIA World Factbook (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/us.html ). Other sources estimate within a few hundred dollars of the CIA estimate.  Though the U.S. per capita GDP ranks just eleventh on the list of world nations' per capital GDP, a strong argument can be made that the "standard of living" of people in the United States ranks much higher.  Again, standard of living can be a very difficult concept to define.

[NOTE: A more detailed definition of GDP and its components can be found later in this lesson or at http://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/national/gdp/gdphighlights.pdf .

U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis: Gross Domestic Product: Second Quarter 2011 (Second Estimate)

Announcement Date: August 26, 2011

"Real gross domestic product -- the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States -- increased at an annual rate of 1.0 percent in the second quarter of 2011, (that is, from the first quarter to the second quarter), according to the "second" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the first quarter, real GDP increased 0.4 percent."

The August 26 real GDP announcement was the second of three BEA estimates of GDP for the second quarter (Q2) of 2011. Each announcement is based on additional or more complete data than the prior estimate. The BEA reported, "The GDP estimates released today are based on more complete source data than were available for the "advance" estimate issued last month (July)." The advance estimate in July reported a 1.3 percent real GDP growth rate for Q2 2011. The U.S. growth rate was, according to the second estimate, slower than the first estimate.  

Discussion Question: Is it helpful for the BEA to make three announcements of the GDP growth of a quarter?

[Note to teachers: The second and third announcements for a quarter are based on more complete or new data. This is a good time to introduce leading, concurrent and lagging indicators. Link to Conference Board indexes of indicators: www.conference-board.org/data/bcicountry.cfm?cid=1 ]

 

How is GDP Measured?

There are two basic ways to determine a nation’s GDP.

  1. Income Approach. This method adds all of the incomes that governments, businesses and other entities pay for the productive resources they use to produce goods and services: wages, salaries, and other labor income, corporate profits, interest and other investment income, farmers’ income, and income from non-farm unincorporated businesses. After adjusting for indirect taxes and depreciation, GDP is determined.
     
  2. Expenditure Approach. Measuring the total expenditure of money used to buy things is a way of measuring production. This is expenditure method of calculating GDP include personal consumption expenditures, gross private investment, government expenditures and net exports.

Where Did Q2 2011 GDP Growth Come From?

The BEA announcement identified the sectors of the economy that improved and those that slowed.

Increases:

  • Business fixed investment increased.
  • Exports of both goods and services increased.
  • Consumer spending increased.
  • Federal government spending increased.

Decreases:

  • State and local government spending decreased.
  • Imports increased (a reduction in GDP).
  • Inventory investment declined.

Change from the First to Second Estimate

The second estimate of real GDP growth was 0.3 percent less than the first for Q2.  Why?  The BEA explained, “The 0.3 percentage point downward revision to real GDP growth in the second quarter mainly reflected downward revisions to inventory investment and to exports that were partly offset by upward revisions to business fixed investment and to consumer spending.” 

For details of the U.S. real GDP data, go to the BEA's August 26, 2011, announcement, Table 1. Real Gross Domestic Product and Related Measures: Percent Change From Preceding Period, http://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/national/gdp/2011/pdf/gdp2q11_2nd.pdf.

The Impact of Inflation and Measuring Real GDP

To adjust for inflation, the BEA uses the percent change in the price index for gross domestic purchases. The BEA defines this as the change in the "prices of goods and services purchased by U.S. residents, regardless of where the goods and services are produced. The gross domestic purchases price index is derived from the prices of personal consumption expenditures, gross private domestic investment, and government consumption expenditures and gross investment. Thus, for example, an increase in the price of imported cars would raise the prices paid by U.S. residents and thereby directly raise the price index for gross domestic purchases."

The BEA announcement added, "The price index for gross domestic purchases, which measures prices paid by U.S. residents, increased 3.3 percent in the second quarter, 0.1 percentage point more than in the advance estimate; this index increased 4.0 percent in the first quarter. Excluding food and energy prices, the price index for gross domestic purchases increased 2.6 percent in the second quarter, compared with an increase of 2.4 percent in the first."

The bottom line: Inflation remained low in Q2 2011. Energy - usually the price level wild card - can significantly affect the overall rate of price level ups and downs. This month, energy was not a significant factor and lower energy prices somewhat kept overall inflation low.

For data on the the price level changes for the major industry groups, see the BEA announcement Table 4. Price Indexes for Gross Domestic Product and Related Measures: Percent Change From Preceding Period, http://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/national/gdp/2011/pdf/gdp2q11_2nd.pdf .

Discussion Question: How did inflation affect you in the past several months? Did you notice any price changes? For recent inflation data, go to the U.S. Bureau of Labors Statistics website - www.bls.gov .

The Major Components of GDP in Q2 2011

GDP is generally reported as the sum of four components: C + I + G + X = GDP.

  • Personal Consumption Expenditures (C)
  • Private Investment (I)
  • Government (all levels) Expenditures (G)
  • Net Exports (exports minus imports) (X)

The August 26, 2011, BEA announcement reported:

  • Consumption: "Real personal consumption expenditures increased 0.4 percent in the second quarter, compared with an increase of 2.1 percent in the first." Consumers spent more on goods and services, not much.  Personal Consumption is normally about 70 percent of U.S. GDP (71 percent in Q2 2011).  Thus, slower growth of consumer spending is the major factor in determining overall real GDP growth.
  • Investment: "Real nonresidential fixed investment increased 9.9 percent, compared with an increase of 2.1 percent. Nonresidential structures increased 15.7 percent, in contrast to a decrease of 14.3 percent. Equipment and software increased 7.9 percent, compared with an increase of 8.7 percent. Real residential fixed investment increased 3.4 percent, in contrast to a decrease of 2.4 percent."  Both business and residential investments increased.
  • Net Exports: "Real exports of goods and services increased 3.1 percent in the second quarter, compared with an increase of 7.9 percent in the first. Real imports of goods and services increased 1.9 percent, compared with an increase of 8.3 percent."  Both imports and exports increased. A greater increase in imports (deficit) results in a subtraction from GDP.
  • Government Spending: "Real federal government consumption expenditures and gross investment increased 2.0 percent in the second quarter, in contrast to a decrease of 9.4 percent in the first. National defense increased 7.1 percent, in contrast to a decrease of 12.6 percent. Nondefense decreased 7.5 percent, compared with a decrease of 2.7 percent. Real state and local government consumption expenditures and gross investment decreased 2.8 percent, compared with a decrease of 3.4 percent."

[NOTE: More detailed definitions of the four categories can be found later in this lesson.]

The Impact of Inventories

Inventory consists of the raw materials, intermediate goods, and finished goods that are ready for sale. Inventories represent one of the most important assets of a business. The turnover of inventory represents a sources of revenue generation and subsequent earnings for a company.

Holding a large amount of inventory over time is not usually good for a business. Holding inventory means that the business has paid the costs to produce good that have not been sold. Holding too little inventory may be bad because the business risks of losing potential sales and potential market share.

The BEA identifies the impact of changes in inventories - "Changes in inventories are the smallest component of the GDP, usually less than 1% of GDP but they are much more important than their absolute size. In fact, large changes in inventories signal changes in aggregate demand and, thus, are indicators of future economic activity. As the change in inventories is a flow equal to the change in the stock of unsold goods, they are a form of investment, often referred to as involuntary investment."

On August 26, the BEA reported, "The change in real private inventories subtracted 0.23 percentage point from the second-quarter change in real GDP, after adding 0.32 percentage point to the first-quarter change. Private businesses increased inventories $40.6 billion in the second quarter, following increases of $49.1 billion in the first quarter and of $38.3 billion in the fourth  ."  

Gross Domestic Purchases

"Real gross domestic purchases -- purchases by U.S. residents of goods and services wherever produced -- increased 0.9 percent in the second quarter, compared with an increase of 0.7 percent in the first." This BEA data differs from GDP in that some goods and services may have been produced in other countries. Were we purchasing more imports in Q2?

Gross National Product

In 1991, the United States switched from using gross national product (GNP to gross domestic product GDP) as the primary measurement of production or output GDP is product produced within a country's borders. GNP is product produced by enterprises owned by a country's citizens. Using GDP essentially factors out the production from firms outside the US and the impact of trade.

"Real gross national product -- the goods and services produced by the labor and property supplied by U.S. residents -- increased 1.7 percent in the second quarter, compared with an increase of 1.5 percent in the first. GNP includes, and GDP excludes, net receipts of income from the rest of the world, which increased $24.3 billion in the second quarter after increasing $36.6 billion in the first; in the second quarter, receipts increased $29.0 billion, and payments increased $4.7 billion." 

Current-Dollar GDP

Current dollar GDP (also called nominal GDP) reflects the prices currently paid by consumers, businesses and governments. For a true measurement of the value of output in "today's" dollars, use the current-dollar GDP.

The BLS reported, "Current-dollar GDP -- the market value of the nation's output of goods and services -- increased 3.5 percent, or $129.0 billion, in the second quarter to a level of $14,996.8 billion. In the first quarter, current-dollar GDP increased 3.1 percent, or $112.8 billion."

Revisions from the Advance Estimate for Q2 2011

There was a significant downward revision for real GDP date between the first and second estimates for Q2, 2011.

"The 'second' estimate of the second-quarter increase in real GDP is 0.8 percentage point, or $25.0 billion, lower than the advance estimate issued last month, primarily reflecting an upward revision to imports and downward revisions to private inventory investment and to exports that were partly offset by an upward revision to personal consumption expenditures."

   Advance Estimate  (July, 2011)  Second Estimate (August, 2011)
     
Real GDP, Q2 2011  1.3%  1.0%
Current Dollar GDP, Q2 2011  3.7%  3.5%
Gross Domestic Purchases Price Index, Q2 2011  3.2%  3.3%

*Percent change from preceding quarter.


Discussion Question: Clarify the difference between GDP and GNP.  [GDP is production within a nation's borders and GNP is production by enterprises owned by a nation's citizens.]  Ask: Why is GDP a better measure of a nation's economic growth?  [GDP may more accurately reflect the income earned inside the nation's borders.  The key variables are the amount of foreign ownership, the levels of imports and exports, and national debt.]

The 2007-2009 Recession - A Review

In December 2008, the Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) declared that a recession had begun in the U.S. economy in December 2007. At that time, U.S. output had slowed considerably from the previous quarters. More serious slowing (negative growth) accelerated in Q4 of 2008. Although the NBER's declaration that a recession had begun did not fit the commonly held definition of a recession - two consecutive quarters or negative or no growth - overall economic conditions had deteriorated enough for the NBER to make the decision that a recession had begun. In September, 2010, the BEA declared that the business cycle had hit a trough in June, 2009, and the recession was over.  "the committee determined that a trough in business activity occurred in the U.S. economy in June 2009. The trough marks the end of the recession that began in December 2007 and the beginning of an expansion. The recession lasted 18 months, which makes it the longest of any recession since World War II."

When identifying the end of the recession in June, 2009, the NBER concluded that "the behavior of the quarterly series for real GDP and GDI indicates that the trough occurred in mid-2009. Real GDP reached its low point in the second quarter of 2009, while the value of real GDI was essentially identical in the second and third quarters of 2009. The average of real GDP and real GDI reached its low point in the second quarter of 2009. The committee concluded that strong growth in both real GDP and real GDI in the fourth quarter of 2009 ruled out the possibility that the trough occurred later than the third quarter."  GDP growth had increased in June and employment began to increase several months afterward.  

For more details about the NBER's determination of the end of the recession, see the Business Cycle Dating Committee's September 20, 2010 announcement at: http://www.nber.org/cycles/sept2010.html

Discussion Question:  U.S. economic growth and the recovery are slow, and the U.S. unemployment rate remains very high by historical standards.  Despite the NBER's "official" declaration of the business cycle trough in June, 2009, are we still in a recession?  [Students may want to offer their own definitions of the beginning and end of period of recession. How important is the unemployment rate?  How important is real GDP growth?  Is the old adage true? "When your neighbor is out of work, it is a recession.  When you are out of work, it is a depression."]

Recent History of U.S. Real GDP Growth

Figure 1, below, shows the recent history of U.S. real GDP growth rates by quarter.  Note the "cycles" of increase and decrease.  The period of December, 2007 through June, 2009 is the recession.

Figure 1

Recent real GDP growth has not been consistent among the states.  Figure 2, below, shows the percent change in real GDP by state, the change from 2009 to 2010.  Note the regions and states with faster and slower real GDP growth.

 

map figure 2

 

Source:  Bureau of Economic Analysis news release, "Economic Recovery Widespread Across States in 2010," June 7, 2011.  http://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/regional/gdp_state/2011/gsp0611.htm

Discussion Question:  Where does your state stand?  What characteristics of your state may have caused real GDP growth to be greater or less than the average?

 

Some Key GDP Definitions

  • Gross domestic product (GDP). The market value of goods and services produced by labor and property in the United States, regardless of nationality.
  • Nominal gross domestic product.  GDP expressed in current dollars.
  • Real gross domestic product (real GDP). GDP adjusted for the effect of a change in the price level.
  • Gross national product (GNP). The market value of goods and services produced by labor and property supplied by U.S. residents, regardless of where they are located.
  • Full Employment GDP. The nation's potential output when all of the nation's productive resoruces (natural, human, and capital resources) are fully utilized.  If all of the nation's factories were working at full capacity and there was full employment, what would the GDP be?
  • Potential GDP: The highest level of real gross domestic product that could be reached without putting pressure on the price level - inflation.
  • Per Capita GDP. The nation's (nominal) GDP divided by its population.
  • Real per capita GDP:  The nation's real GDP divided by its population.

ASSESSMENT ACTIVITY

Short Answer Questions:


1. How is a nation's per capita real GDP determined?

[Per capita real GDP is the nation's real GDP divided by the nation's population.]

2. What data from the BEA announcement supports the NBER decision that the U.S. is no longer in a recession?

[The NBER concluded that "the behavior of the quarterly series for real GDP and GDI indicates that the trough occurred in mid-2009. Real GDP reached its low point in the second quarter of 2009, while the value of real GDI was essentially identical in the second and third quarters of 2009. The average of real GDP and real GDI reached its low point in the second quarter of 2009. The committee concluded that strong growth in both real GDP and real GDI in the fourth quarter of 2009 ruled out the possibility that the trough occurred later than the third quarter."]

CONCLUSION

In Q2 of 2011, the U.S economy continued to grow, but at a much slower pace than previously estimated, and at an even slower rate than the previous two years. Economists and financial analysts' opinions are mixed as to the meaning of this growth pattern. Some predict a slow, but steady, growth rate after the short period of growth resulting from various stimulus programs.  A more negative view is that of a "double dip" recession - decline - some growth - and further decline.

The U.S. annualized growth rate was 1.0 percent in Q2 2011. Unemployment has remained historically high during this period, still at 9.1 percent in July, 2011.

The Federal Reserve has kept the federal funds rate target at almost zero to keep other interest rates low and encourage borrowing and lending.

What data do you look for as a sign of a real recovery?http://www.nber.org/cycles/recessions_faq.html

EXTENSION ACTIVITY

EXTENSION ACTIVITY

The August 26, 2011, BEA real GDP announcement provides a breakdown of U.S. gross domestic product growth by quarter from Q2 2007 to the present. Take a good look at the data over the time period. What are the areas of growth and decline?  Was the data (growth rates) consistent throughout the period of time?

See Table 1: Table 1. Real Gross Domestic Product and Related Measures: Percent Change From Preceding Periodhttp://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/national/gdp/2011/pdf/gdp2q11_2nd.pdf

Summarize your interpretation of the data in Table 1.

Take a look at the other tables. What information do they give you about the health of the economy?

[Note to teachers: Assign pairs or small groups to look at different data tables. They can summarize the data and suggest their meanings to the other groups.]