Big GDP Number: 3.5%

Ok, a quick review of GDP is revealing of a few things of interest. Let’s start with the data, and go on from there. BEA reports:

“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 3.5 percent in the third quarter of 2009, (that is, from the second quarter to the third quarter), according to the “advance” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the second quarter, real GDP decreased 0.7 percent.”

We get the usual disclaimers that this is an “estimate based on source data that are incomplete or subject to further revision” (Next GDP update is November 24, 2009).

Where did the growth come from?

The increase in real GDP in the third quarter primarily reflected positive contributions from personal consumption expenditures (PCE), exports, private inventory investment, federal government spending, and residential fixed investment. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased…

Motor vehicle output added 1.66 percentage points to the third-quarter change in real GDP after adding 0.19 percentage point to the second-quarter change. Final sales of computers subtracted 0.11 percentage point from the third-quarter change in real GDP after subtracting 0.04 percentage point from the second-quarter change.

The 1st question to ask about GDP is the degree of inorganic/artificial gains. As the above paras suggest, much of the improvement is where the government is spending, incentivizing, or bailing out various sectors: Autos, Residential RE, and Fed spending. As expected, Inventory reduction helped, and unexpectedly, increasing imports hurt.

A large chunk of the gains — 1.66 percentage points — came from Car sales in the form of cash for clunkers; this will not be in the Q4 data.

Home building soared 23.5% — reflecting a combination of zero percent interest ratyes (ZIRP) and 1st time homebuyers tax credit. That was good for another 0.5 percentage points of GDP.

Well over half of the gains are therefore government related.

Also of note: Nominal GDP was below forecasts, thanks to a surprise 0.8% gain in the deflator (That also added to the REAL GDP figure). Hence, a chunk of the gains are pure inflation.


Q3 2009 GDP


Gross Domestic Product (GDP) Q3 2009 (ADVANCE ESTIMATE)
BEA, OCTOBER 29, 2009

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