Strange things are afoot with GDP

Thursday, June 30, 2005 | 07:31 AM

Naaf741_economy06292005200926I do not want to become a "nattering nabob of negativity," but I cannot shake the idea that yesterday's GDP numbers had a certain odor about them.

Maybe I'm just an economic curmudgeon.

Perhaps I am too "reality-based" in my perspective.

I simply cannot compromise my belief in hard data (versus hedonics and seasonal adjustments and/or revisions).

Nor can I manage the suspension of disbelief so common amongst the economic cheerleading crowd, both in the private sector, at the Fed, and amongst the elected and appointed government officials.

Look, I understand that a certain degree of economic positivity is required -- for consumer confidence, as well as to prevent the gold bugs and survivialist crowd from scaring everyone into the bomb shelter. I have no desire to cross over to the tinfoil hat wearing fraternity. I accept the necessity of some measure of 'happy' bias in the government models.

But at what point do we cross the line from maintaining a healthy optimistic outlook to cynically manipulating data in boldfaced contradiction of reality?

Unfortunately, I think that line was crossed in yesterday's revised GDP data:

GDP Components:    Q1 Final (Est 3)    Q1 Prelm(est 2)   Q1 Adv(est 1)]
Real GDP                   +3.8%                +3.5%                   +3.1%      

Here's the thing:  Within GDP data, the revision of the Residential Housing is simply too hard to believe: This is data that's widely available from the NAR amongst others. To get there, you need a significant DROP in home prices. That's right, a drop in home prices. The revision from +8.8% to +11.5% is simply enormous. I cannot say for sure that its unprecedented -- but I cannot recall it being this huge in recent memory.

I am not the only one: The (subscription only) MNSI specifically observed:

The Commerce Department said exports and investment in residential structures were revised higher in Q1 . . .The structures revision was due to downward revision to the one-family house price index which resulted in more real sales and less inflation -- an almost unbelievable result given that the housing market is on fire with home prices posting double-digit appreciation on the year in some areas. (emphasis added)

Yesterday's upwardly revised GDP data is believable only if you accepty the premise that HOME PRICES WENT DOWN IN Q1 2005.

Otherwise, the data was gamed.

Follow the bouncing ball:  The revisions to GDP inflation accounted for virtually all the net positive
revisions to growth

How? The GDP implicit price deflator. For the quarter, it was was revised downward from 3.16% to 2.89% (a drop of 0.27%). That accomplishes a neat little trick: By (artificially) reducing the rate of inflation, the BEA spikes real GDP growth by the same amount, and total GDP growth revised upward from 3.48% to 3.76% (rounded up to 3.8%), an increase of 0.28%.

The deflator was revised downward from an annualized 3.3% to 1.1%, an astonishing drop of 2.2%, and real housing growth revised from 8.8% to 11.5%, an incease of 2.7%. 

Yet year-over-year housing inflation in the GDP is at just 5.2%. Cranking that number up to reality raises inflation, lowers GDP, and spoils everyone's party.

Forget taking the punchbowl away, this crowd is spiking it with LSD.

Its not like I do not admit when I am wrong. Hell, I expect to be wrong.

But this is beyond the pale.

GDP numbers, IMHO, have now entered the realm of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and honest politicians. They are all fictional characters.

(I hope to have some more on this later)


NAR Data on Home Sales Q1$FILE/REL0505EHS.XLS

First-Quarter GDP Is Revised Upward on Housing Surge
DOW JONES NEWSWIRES, June 30, 2005; Page A2,,SB112004797007972800,00.html

ANALYSIS: US Q1 GDP Rev +3.8%: Prices Dn, Expts & Res Inv Up>
By Joseph Plocek
Market News Service International
Wednesday, June 29, 2005 8:31:18 AM (GMT-04:00)

Thursday, June 30, 2005 | 07:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack (2) add to | digg digg this! | technorati add to technorati | email email this post



TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Strange things are afoot with GDP:

» GDP Data Being Manipulated from The Stalwart
The Big Picture: Strange things are afoot with GDPWhen the GDP number came out at 3.8% yesterday, I told my colleague I suspected there would be some revelation to suggest that the number was misleading, or unsustainable in some way. [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 30, 2005 9:11:21 AM

» Around the Economic Blogosphere from Mover Mike
Checking around the Blogosphere to see what bloggers are going on about:

Angry Bear has an excellent post about the FOMC raising interest rates and a chart showing "real" Fede... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 2, 2005 2:58:39 PM


More fuel on the GDP fire:

"Date: Wed Jun 29 2005 11:24
trotsky (Big Bob@GDP) ID#248269:
Copyright © 2002 trotsky/Kitco Inc. All rights reserved
US GDP is overstated by approximately 3% , mostly via hedonic indexing.
the numbers in some subsectors are so distorted as to defy belief. for instance, between 2000 and 2003, a 13% FALL in nominal IT spending was magically transformed into a 58% INCREASE for the GDP account. this was incidentally the MAJOR component of the reported 'GDP growth' during the period. it is an incredible Potemkin village...dollars that no-one ever spent or received come to life with the help of doctored statistics."

Posted by: Dave | Jun 30, 2005 9:06:39 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.

Recent Posts

December 2008
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31      


Complete Archives List



Category Cloud

On the Nightstand

On the Nightstand

 Subscribe in a reader

Get The Big Picture!
Enter your email address:

Read our privacy policy

Essays & Effluvia

The Apprenticed Investor

Apprenticed Investor

About Me

About Me
email me

Favorite Posts

Tools and Feeds

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Add to Google Reader or Homepage

Subscribe to The Big Picture

Powered by FeedBurner

Add to Technorati Favorites


My Wishlist

Worth Perusing

Worth Perusing

mp3s Spinning

MP3s Spinning

My Photo



Odds & Ends

Site by Moxie Design Studios™