US Economy Continues to Expand, but Business Spending Slows Temporarily

Washington, DC (Friday, July 20, 2018):  Gross output (GO), the top line of national accounting that measures spending at all stages of production, continued to expand in the first quarter, but at a slower pace than the previous quarter.

Based on data released on Friday, July 20, 2018 by the BEA, real GO increased at an annualized rate of 2.7% in the first quarter of 2018. This increase lags behind the last period’s 4.3% growth rate, but faster than real GDP, which increased only 2.0% in the first quarter of 2018.

Mark Skousen, editor of Forecasts & Strategies and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University, states, “When Gross output grows faster than GDP, this is a good sign of an expanding economy.  However, the latest GO data indicates that business investment and spending grew at a reduced rate in the 1st quarter, probably because of concerns over Federal Reserve’s potential interest rate hikes, uncertainties regarding tariffs and possible trade wars with our trading partners, and the usual weather-related slowdown in business activity during the winter.”

Real GDP, the bottom line of national income accounting, rose at an annualized rate of 2.0% in the first quarter of 2018. The 2.7% real GO growth rate in Q1 2018 is a good indication that, while growing slower than in the Q4 2017, intermediate business activity is still expanding and should translate into continued GDP growth in the near future.

According to a recent study by David Ranson, chief economist at HCWE & Co., GO anticipates changes in GDP by as much as 12 weeks in advance and thus serves as a reliable leading indicator:

The first quarter Skousen B2B Index, a measure of business spending throughout the supply chain, increased at 4.5% in nominal terms, which is significantly lower than the 12.2% growth rate from the previous quarter. After a spike in the previous quarter, the growth in the first quarter puts the business spending increase at almost the same level it was in the third quarter 2017. In the first quarter of 2018, B2B transactions rose at an annual rate of 1.36% in real terms, which is just a fraction of the 8.5% rate from the previous quarter.

After experiencing its highest quarterly growth rate over the past three years in the fourth quarter of 2017, the nominal adjusted GO (GO*)[1] increased at 4.1% in the first quarter of 2018 to reach $43.1 trillion. This current adjusted GO is more than double the size of the current $20.0 trillion real GDP, which measures final output only. However, the broader GO* growth rate of just 1% in real terms indicates a cooling of in economic activity  expansion – most likely because of the HUGE wholesale and retail trade increase in the fourth quarter.  “I view the slower growth in GO in the 1st quarter as temporary,” commented Skousen.  “The economy is likely to recover in the 2nd quarter.”

All but two industrial sectors increased versus the previous quarter, which drove the growth of GO in the first quarter of 2018. While spending increased at extraordinary rates in the previous quarter, the current quarter’s numbers still indicated a robust growth in the early stages of production, such as mining, manufacturing and construction, which is usually a reliable leading economic indicator that overall economic growth should continue to expand.

Supply Chain Activity Continues to Expand

The mining sector’s growth slowed from 46% in the previous quarter to the current 12.2% rate. While lower than the Q4 2017 rate, the current growth rate is still significantly higher than the 4.7% increase in Q3 2017. However, the growth of the mining sector is still robust, it has a relatively small impact on the growth of the overall GO due to the mining sector’s low share of just 1.5% of total GO. Conversely, the manufacturing sector’s 7.6% spending increase has a much bigger impact since the manufacturing sector accounts for nearly a fifth of total GO (18.2% share). Therefore, the 7.6% current growth of the manufacturing sector, while lower than last period’s 13%, has a much greater positive impact on the total GO and should be an even better indicator of a continued economic expansion. The 5.8% growth rate for durable goods was lower than the growth rate for non-durable goods, which rose 9.5% in the first quarter.

Another sector with an 18% share of GO is the Finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing sector. This is one of the few sectors that expanded at a greater rate than in the previous quarter. After increasing its growth rate from 2.8% in Q3 2017 to 6% in the in Q4 2017, this sector expanded at nearly 10% in the first quarter of 2018. Within the overall sector, the Finance and insurance sub-segment rose at 16.4%, which is the highest rate increase of any sector or segment for the current period. Additionally, after rising 6.4% in the previous quarter, the real estate, rental and leasing sub-segment expanded at a slightly lower, but still respectable 5.4%.

Additionally, two more segments posted growth rates in excess of 9% for the first quarter. While the Construction sector increased 9.9%, the transportation and warehousing sector rose 9.1%. These two segments account for a combined GO share of 7.7%.

Only two segments reduced spending from the previous quarter. The Arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, and food services sector accounts for just 4% of the total GO and declined almost 3% which is the same decline as in the previous quarter. Additionally, the spending classified as “Other services, except government”, which accounts for 2.2% of GO, declined 2% versus Q4 2017.

Total government spending (11% share of total GO) increased at 3.8%. This rate was significantly lower than the 6.75% two-year average. The two-year average growth rate of total government spending declined for the first time after rising for five consecutive quarters. State and local government spending and Federal government spending rose at nearly identical rates of 3.8% and 3.7%, respectively.

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. Recently quarterly GO and GDP have both been growing at a similar pace.

Skousen states, “The GDP growth rate of 2.0% failed to take into account what happened behind the scenes in the supply chain in the 1st quarter.  By focusing solely on final spending and the end of the economic chain, GDP can sometimes be a misleading indicator of economic performance. GO is a much better, more comprehensive view of total economic activity along the entire supply chain.”

Business Spending (B2B) Grows Faster Than Consumer Spending

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 increased 4.5% in the first quarter to $24.9 trillion. Meanwhile, consumer spending rose to $13.8 trillion, which is equivalent to a 3.4% annualized growth rate. In real terms, B2B activity rose at an annualized rate of 1.4% and consumer spending rose 1.2%.

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. “The business activity cooled slightly in the first quarter of 2018 on tariff, interest rates, and market correction concerns, but still grew, partially because the business community saw the passing of the tax reform bill in December 2017 as a sign that President Trump and Congress are serious about living up to their promises that they will improve the business environment through tax cuts, as well as reduction of obstructive business regulation.”

About GO and B2B Index

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. 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.”

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

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

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.”

Note: Ned Piplovic assisted in providing technical data for this release.


For More Information

The GO data released by the BEA can be found at 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, or Ned Piplovic, Media Relations at

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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 2018 1st quarter is slightly below $35 trillion. By including gross sales at the wholesale and retail level, the adjusted GO increases to $43.1 trillion in Q1 2018. Thus, the BEA omits more than $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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