Visualizing GDP: An Inside Look at the Q2 Third Estimate

Note: The charts in this commentary have been updated to include the Q2 2017 Third Estimate released yesterday.


The chart below is a way to visualize real GDP change since 2007. It uses a stacked column chart to segment the four major components of GDP with a dashed line overlay to show the sum of the four, which is real GDP itself. Here is the latest overview from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

The increase in real GDP in the second quarter primarily reflected positive contributions from PCE, nonresidential fixed investment, exports, federal government spending, and private inventory investment that were partly offset by negative contributions from residential fixed investment and state and local government spending. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased.

The acceleration in real GDP in the second quarter reflected an upturn in private inventory investment, an acceleration in PCE, a deceleration in imports, and an upturn in federal government spending that were partly offset by a downturn in residential fixed investment, a deceleration in exports, and a downturn in state and local government spending. [more here]

Let's take a closer look at the contributions of GDP of the four major subcomponents. The data source for this chart is the Excel file accompanying the BEA's latest GDP news release (see the links in the right column). Specifically, it uses Table 2: Contributions to Percent Change in Real Gross Domestic Product.

GDP Components

Note: The conventional practice is to round GDP to one decimal place, the latest at 3.1%. The GDP in the chart above is the real GDP calculated to two decimal places.

Here is a chart of the latest quarterly estimates.

Over the time frame of this chart, the Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) component has shown the most consistent correlation with real GDP itself. When PCE has been positive, GDP has usually been positive, and vice versa. In the latest GDP data, the contribution of PCE came at 2.24 of the 3.06 real GDP, an increase over the previous quarter and a positive contribution to Q2 GDP.

Gross Private Domestic Investment was a small positive contributor.

Net Exports was positive in Q2, but was a fractional contribution.

Government Consumption Expenditures came in slightly negative.

As for the role of Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) in GDP and how it has increased over time, here is a snapshot of the PCE-to-GDP ratio since the inception of quarterly GDP in 1947. To one decimal place, the latest ratio of 69.6% is at its record high. From a theoretical perspective, there is a point at which personal consumption as a percent of GDP can't really go any higher. We may be approaching that upper range.

PCE Percent of GDP