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Economy in Brief

No Recession Call Can Be Made Before BEA Explains The Record Gap Between Income & Output
by Joseph G. Carson ([email protected])  July 20, 2022

Before the academic arbiters debate whether the economy is in a recession, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) must first examine and hopefully find answers to the unprecedented and growing gap between income and output in the GDP accounts.

In Q1, Gross Nominal Income (GDI) exceeded Gross National Product (GDP) by a record $836 billion annualized. The gap widened by roughly $220 billion from the fourth quarter of 2021. That increase was sufficiently significant to produce two different outcomes--- GDI, adjusted for inflation, posted a small gain, while GDP, adjusted for inflation, recorded a decline.

In theory, the two series measure the same thing (the economy). But, in practice, there are substantial differences, but nothing on the scale of the past few years.

GDP measures the final output of goods and services, which involves many different series of sales, shipments (domestically and overseas), construction, inventories, and a wide range of private and public services. GDI measures the income associated with the output side, with employee compensation and operating profits accounting for 80% of the total and interest income and investment the remaining portion.

The income side of the accounts is not as timely as the product side. For example, BEA offers a preliminary estimate on the output side less than 30 days after a quarter ends. But, details on the income side are delayed 60 to 90 days due to companies reporting on operating profits.

Still, I have always felt that the income side is neater, as it has far fewer series and revisions than inputs in the output figures. And support for that view comes from a Fed staffer. He argued that GDI is probably a better indicator since his research found the initial estimates of GDI are much closer to the final numbers of both series.

The consensus expects Q2 GDP to show a slight decline when reported on July 28. Back-to-back declines will surely increase talk of recession, but it would be wrong to jump to that conclusion when the gap between income and output has quadrupled in the past two years, and GDI is still increasing in real terms.

BEA is investigating this issue. But it will take months before they issue any report.

Viewpoint commentaries are the opinions of the author and do not reflect the views of Haver Analytics.
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