Archive for the 'GDP' Category

Industry in Focus: Transportation and Warehousing

Transportation and warehousing is an industry that is important to everyone, whether you’re an individual flying home to visit family or a business expecting a shipment of raw materials. In the first quarter of 2015, transportation and warehousing subtracted 0.56 percentage point from real Gross Domestic Product, and was the largest contributor to the 0.2 percent decrease in GDP.

That sounds straightforward enough, but what exactly does that mean?

Contribution to growth—or in this case, a contribution to a decline–isn’t solely a matter of looking at the percent change in real value added by an industry. Instead, the contribution is based on both the quarter-to-quarter change and the size of the industry in the economy.

For instance, real (inflation-adjusted) value added for transportation and warehousing fell 17.3 percent, a smaller percentage point decrease than that of the utilities industry, which fell 18.4 percent. However, transportation and warehousing is a larger industry than utilities. Because transportation and warehousing is larger, that 17.3 percent decrease translated to a $20.7 billion decrease, while the smaller utilities industry’s 18.4 percent decrease translated to a $14.4 billion decrease. This explains why the transportation and warehousing sector contributed 0.56 percentage point to the overall decrease in GDP, while the utilities sector contributed 0.34 percentage point.

This distinction is important because looking at the industries that subtract the most from GDP when GDP falls (or, conversely, contribute the most to GDP when GDP increases) typically points us toward those industries where notable things are happening.

In the case of transportation and warehousing, the notable thing that happened in the first quarter was a sharp drop in real gross output – a measure of an industry’s sales or receipts.

If you’re one of the millions of travelers whose flight was canceled during the unusually harsh winter of 2015, this probably isn’t surprising to you. Heavier than normal snow in the Northeast directly impacted air transportation, a component of transportation and warehousing. Of course, the harsh winter began in December, and as you can see here, transportation and warehousing declined in the fourth quarter of 2014 as well even though overall GDP was increasing 2.2 percent. But when you look at relatively milder winters, such as the winter in the first quarter of 2013, you see that transportation and warehousing increased.

Indeed, the weather in the first quarter of 2015 impacted many portions of the transportation and warehousing industry, which also includes rail transportation, water transportation, truck transportation, transit and ground passenger transportation, pipeline transportation, various support activities, couriers and messengers, and warehousing and storage.

Truck transportation, the largest component of transportation and warehousing, was likely affected not only by the harsh weather but also by work slowdowns at several ports along the West Coast.  Slowdowns at the ports translated into less (or no) cargo loaded onto trucks, leaving trucks underutilized (or idle) when they would otherwise be delivering goods.  In addition to the direct impact on the output of the transportation and warehousing industry, trucking is a critical input to the production processes of many other industries. For example, the wholesale and retail trade industries depend heavily on truck transportation, and both showed a notable decline in their purchases of transportation services in the first quarter.

You may have noticed that subtracting 0.56 percentage point from GDP means that transportation and warehousing accounted for more than the actual 0.2% decrease in real GDP.  This is because other industries grew in the first quarter.  BEA’s quarterly GDP-by-industry statistics help us to better see the inner workings of the economy and provide a comprehensive picture of U.S. industrial performance.

Nondurable Goods Manufacturing Led the Downturn in First Quarter Gross Domestic Product by Industry

A deceleration in nondurable goods manufacturing and downturns in both professional, scientific, and technical services and wholesale trade were the leading contributors to the downturn in U.S. economic growth in the first quarter of 2015. Overall, 15 of 22 industry groups contributed to the downturn in the first quarter.

Real Value added by sector July 23

  • Nondurable goods manufacturing decelerated significantly, increasing 0.2 percent in the first quarter, after a larger increase of 9.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014.
  • Professional, scientific, and technical services decreased 0.6 percent, after increasing 6.5 percent.
  • Wholesale trade decreased 3.4 percent, after increasing 4.5 percent.

Real Value Added by Industry July 23

For more information, read the full report.

Why Does BEA Revise GDP Estimates?

Each summer, the Bureau of Economic Analysis updates its Gross Domestic Product estimates to incorporate sources of data previously unavailable and make improvements in methodology – – all with the goal of providing the most accurate measure of the U.S. economy’s performance.

This year, we’ll release revised estimates for GDP and its major components on July 30. These updated figures will reflect new and revised sources of data and will incorporate the regular updates to seasonal adjustment factors as well as several statistical changes designed to reduce residual seasonality. At the same time, BEA will introduce new tools for analyzing the nation’s economy.

This annual revision process results in old estimates of GDP getting recalculated for both the quarters and years covered – from 2012 through the first quarter of 2015. BEA’s annual revisions usually cover three years. New estimates of GDP will reflect the adopted improvements.

Another improvement that will emerge from this year’s annual revision process is that the BEA – also starting on July 30 — will begin including data from a new “advance” trade report produced by the Census Bureau into our initial estimates of quarterly GDP. The data from Census’ advance trade report will mean that BEA will have actual trade data for all three months of the quarter – rather than only two months — when calculating its first estimate of quarterly GDP.

In addition to the annual revisions process, BEA also regularly updates its quarterly GDP numbers – producing three estimates for a given quarter. Each new estimate includes updated, more complete, and more accurate information as it becomes available. The first, called the “advance” estimate, typically receives the most attention and is released roughly four weeks after the end of a quarter. For example, the first estimate of GDP for this year’s January-to-March quarter came out near the end of April. The first estimate for the second quarter will come out July 30 – in concert with the annual revisions.

When BEA calculates the advance estimate, we don’t yet have complete source data, with the largest gaps in data for the third month of the quarter. In particular, the advance estimate lacks complete source data on inventories, trade, and consumer spending on services. Therefore, we must make assumptions for these missing pieces based in part on past trends. As part of this process, we publish a detailed technical note that lays out the assumptions we made for a particular estimate. With Census’ new advance trade report, BEA will be able to plug the hole on the missing trade data.

As new and more complete data become available, we incorporate that information into the second and third GDP estimates. About 45 percent of the advance estimate is based on initial, or early, estimates from various monthly and quarterly surveys that are subject to revision for various reasons, including late respondents that are eventually incorporated into the survey results. Another roughly 14 percent of the advance estimate is based on historical trends.

By the second GDP estimate, we have new data for the third month and revised data for earlier months. By the third estimate, a lot more data is available so that only 17 percent of the GDP estimate is based on information from the first set of monthly and quarterly surveys.

Once every five years, BEA produces a  “comprehensive” revision to its GDP statistics, incorporating changes to how the U.S. economy is measured as well as more complete source data all the way back to 1929.  The most recent comprehensive revision was 2013.  New data, new methodologies, changes in definitions and classifications, and changes in presentations were all incorporated into 2013’s comprehensive GDP revision.

Measuring GDP for the U.S. economy is always a work in progress. It often takes months, or even years, for the most comprehensive and accurate data to become available. Our advance estimates strike a good balance between accuracy and timeliness, given the data available at the time. Successive revisions reflect BEA’s commitment to incorporate both more complete source data when they become available and improved methods for measuring a rapidly changing economy.