Revising GDP

The BEA released its final numbers for 1st quarter GDP showing that the economy declined by 5.5% January through March. Since BEA already released data indicating the depth of the decline, these numbers are in many ways old news. What is new news, at least to me, is the size of the adjustments. The “Advance” estimate (issued in April) had GDP declining by 6.1%. The “Preliminary” (issue in May) had a drop of 5.7%. Today’s “Final” number is 5.5%. According to BEA:

The upward revision to the percent change in real GDP primarily reflected a downward revision to imports and an upward revision to private nonfarm inventory investment that were partly offset by downward revisions to exports and to personal consumption expenditures for services.

So trade (including trade in services) and consumption of service were three of the four reasons for the revisions.
I note that this will not be the last revision to the data. BEA is scheduled to release the 13th comprehensive (or benchmark) revision of the national income and product accounts (NIPAs) at the end of July. More information about the changes is available on their website.
All of this should remind us of the difficulties on measurement in the Intangible Economy — and the reason we need to support BEA’s (and the other statistical agencies’) efforts to improve the data. After all, economic data is a key government provided intangible asset.

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