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Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

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The total value of all goods and services produced in the market (excluding imports). Gross Domestic Product (GDP) helps to measure the standard of living in the market. Negative data implies a weakened economy.

What Is Gross Domestic Product (GDP)?

Gross domestic product (GDP) is the total monetary or market value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country’s borders in a specific time period. As a broad measure of overall domestic production, it functions as a comprehensive scorecard of a given country’s economic health.

Though GDP is typically calculated on an annual basis, it is sometimes calculated on a quarterly basis as well. In the U.S., for example, the government releases an annualized GDP estimate for each fiscal quarter and also for the calendar year. The individual data sets included in this report are given in real terms, so the data is adjusted for price changes and is, therefore, net of inflation.

Types of Gross Domestic Product

GDP can be reported in several ways, each of which provides slightly different information.

Nominal GDP

Nominal GDP is an assessment of economic production in an economy that includes current prices in its calculation. In other words, it doesn’t strip out inflation or the pace of rising prices, which can inflate the growth figure.

All goods and services counted in nominal GDP are valued at the prices that those goods and services are actually sold for in that year. Nominal GDP is evaluated in either the local currency or U.S. dollars at currency market exchange rates to compare countries’ GDPs in purely financial terms.

Nominal GDP is used when comparing different quarters of output within the same year. When comparing the GDP of two or more years, real GDP is used. This is because, in effect, the removal of the influence of inflation allows the comparison of the different years to focus solely on volume.

Real GDP

Real GDP is an inflation-adjusted measure that reflects the number of goods and services produced by an economy in a given year, with prices held constant from year to year to separate out the impact of inflation or deflation from the trend in output over time. Since GDP is based on the monetary value of goods and services, it is subject to inflation.

Rising prices tend to increase a country’s GDP, but this does not necessarily reflect any change in the quantity or quality of goods and services produced. Thus, by looking just at an economy’s nominal GDP, it can be difficult to tell whether the figure has risen because of a real expansion in production or simply because prices rose.

Economists use a process that adjusts for inflation to arrive at an economy’s real GDP. By adjusting the output in any given year for the price levels that prevailed in a reference year, called the base year, economists can adjust for inflation’s impact. This way, it is possible to compare a country’s GDP from one year to another and see if there is any real growth.

Real GDP is calculated using a GDP price deflator, which is the difference in prices between the current year and the base year. For example, if prices rose by 5% since the base year, then the deflator would be 1.05. Nominal GDP is divided by this deflator, yielding real GDP. Nominal GDP is usually higher than real GDP because inflation is typically a positive number.

Real GDP accounts for changes in market value and thus narrows the difference between output figures from year to year. If there is a large discrepancy between a nation’s real GDP and nominal GDP, this may be an indicator of significant inflation or deflation in its economy.

GDP Per Capita

GDP per capita is a measurement of the GDP per person in a country’s population. It indicates that the amount of output or income per person in an economy can indicate average productivity or average living standards. GDP per capita can be stated in nominal, real (inflation-adjusted), or purchasing power parity (PPP) terms.

At a basic interpretation, per-capita GDP shows how much economic production value can be attributed to each individual citizen. This also translates to a measure of overall national wealth since GDP market value per person also readily serves as a prosperity measure.

Per-capita GDP is often analyzed alongside more traditional measures of GDP. Economists use this metric for insight into their own country’s domestic productivity and the productivity of other countries. Per-capita GDP considers both a country’s GDP and its population. Therefore, it can be important to understand how each factor contributes to the overall result and is affecting per-capita GDP growth.

If a country’s per-capita GDP is growing with a stable population level, for example, it could be the result of technological progressions that are producing more with the same population level. Some countries may have a high per-capita GDP but a small population, which usually means they have built up a self-sufficient economy based on an abundance of special resources.

GDP Growth Rate

The GDP growth rate compares the year-over-year (or quarterly) change in a country’s economic output to measure how fast an economy is growing. Usually expressed as a percentage rate, this measure is popular for economic policymakers because GDP growth is thought to be closely connected to key policy targets such as inflation and unemployment rates.

If GDP growth rates accelerate, it may be a signal that the economy is overheating and the central bank may seek to raise interest rates. Conversely, central banks see a shrinking (or negative) GDP growth rate (i.e., a recession) as a signal that rates should be lowered and that stimulus may be necessary.

GDP Purchasing Power Parity (PPP)

While not directly a measure of GDP, economists look at PPP to see how one country’s GDP measures up in international dollars using a method that adjusts for differences in local prices and costs of living to make cross-country comparisons of real output, real income, and living standards.

GDP Formula

GDP can be determined via three primary methods. All three methods should yield the same figure when correctly calculated. These three approaches are often termed the expenditure approach, the output (or production) approach, and the income approach.

The Expenditure Approach

The expenditure approach, also known as the spending approach, calculates spending by the different groups that participate in the economy. The U.S. GDP is primarily measured based on the expenditure approach. This approach can be calculated using the following formula:

GDP=C+G+I+NX

where:

C=Consumption

G=Government spending

I=Investment

NX=Net exports​

All of these activities contribute to the GDP of a country. Consumption refers to private consumption expenditures or consumer spending. Consumers spend money to acquire goods and services, such as groceries and haircuts. Consumer spending is the biggest component of GDP, accounting for more than two-thirds of the U.S. GDP.

Consumer confidence, therefore, has a very significant bearing on economic growth. A high confidence level indicates that consumers are willing to spend, while a low confidence level reflects uncertainty about the future and an unwillingness to spend.

Government spending represents government consumption expenditure and gross investment. Governments spend money on equipment, infrastructure, and payroll. Government spending may become more important relative to other components of a country’s GDP when consumer spending and business investment both decline sharply. (This may occur in the wake of a recession, for example.)

Investment refers to private domestic investment or capital expenditures. Businesses spend money to invest in their business activities. For example, a business may buy machinery. Business investment is a critical component of GDP since it increases the productive capacity of an economy and boosts employment levels.

The net exports formula subtracts total exports from total imports (NX = Exports – Imports). The goods and services that an economy makes that are exported to other countries, less the imports that are purchased by domestic consumers, represent a country’s net exports. All expenditures by companies located in a given country, even if they are foreign companies, are included in this calculation.

The Production (Output) Approach

The production approach is essentially the reverse of the expenditure approach. Instead of measuring the input costs that contribute to economic activity, the production approach estimates the total value of economic output and deducts the cost of intermediate goods that are consumed in the process (like those of materials and services). Whereas the expenditure approach projects forward from costs, the production approach looks backward from the vantage point of a state of completed economic activity.

The Income Approach

The income approach represents a kind of middle ground between the two other approaches to calculating GDP. The income approach calculates the income earned by all the factors of production in an economy, including the wages paid to labor, the rent earned by land, the return on capital in the form of interest, and corporate profits. 

The income approach factors in some adjustments for those items that are not considered payments made to factors of production. For one, there are some taxes—such as sales taxes and property taxes—that are classified as indirect business taxes. In addition, depreciation—a reserve that businesses set aside to account for the replacement of equipment that tends to wear down with use—is also added to the national income. All of this together constitutes a nation’s income.

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