Friday, March 24, 2017

How Long Have Economists Known About The Shortcomings Of GDP?

I occasionally hear about people who say we need a better measure of our economic welfare than GDP. But economists are not blind to its shortcomings. The textbook I use for my macro class includes a discussion of these issues. For example, GDP does not take into account how the quality of goods changes over time or how much leisure time we have and how that has changed over time.

There is also production that takes place outside of the market place. Economists have been aware of this since GDP was first created.

See What's the Value of US Household Production? by Timothy Taylor, Managing editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives. He presents some comments made by economist Simon Kuznets in 1934. Kuznets was the author of the 1934 report to Congress "National Income, 1929-1932." He also won a Nobel Prize in Economics in 1971.

Here is one part of that report, from Mr Taylor's post:

"Kuznets wrote in 1934:
"The volume of services rendered by housewives and other members of the  household toward the satisfaction of wants must be imposing indeed,  when totaled for the 30 million families comprising the population of  this country; and the item is thus large enough to affect materially any estimate of national income. But the organization of these services  render them an integral part of family life at large, rather than of the specifically business life of the nation. Such services are, therefore, quite removed from those which gainfully occupied groups undertake to perform in return for wages, salaries, or profits. It was considered  best to omit this large group of services from national income, especially  since no reliable basis is available for estimating their value. This  omission, unavoidable though it is, lowers the value of national income  measurements as indexes of the nation's productivity in conditions  of recent years when the contraction of the market economy was accompanied by an expansion of activity within the family. ... Thus, the estimates submitted in the present study define income in such a way as to cover primarily only  efforts whose results appear on the market place of our economy.  A student of social affairs who is interested in the total productivity  of the nation, including those efforts which, like housewives' services,  do not appear on the market, can therefore use our measures only with some qualifications.""
Taylor also mentions "The value of household services was equal to about 37% of GDP in 1965, but is currently equal to about 23% of GDP."

Click here to learn more about Kuznets' contributions to economics

Friday, March 10, 2017

The percentage of 25-54 year-olds employed increased in February

One weakness of the unemployment rate is that if people drop out of the labor force they cannot be counted as an unemployed person and the unemployment rate goes down. They are no longer actively seeking work and it might be because they are discouraged workers. The lower unemployment rate can be misleading in this case. People dropping out of the labor force might indicate a weak labor market.

We could look at the employment to population ratio instead, since that includes those not in the labor force. But that includes everyone over 16 and that means that senior citizens are in the group but many of them have retired. The more that retire, the lower this ratio would be and that might be misleading. It would not necessarily mean the labor market is weak.

But we have this ratio for people age 25-54 (which also eliminates college age people who might not be looking for work)

The percentage of 25-54 year-olds employed is 78.3% for February. It was 78.2% in January. It is still below the 79.7% in December 2007 when the recession started.  Click here to see the BLS data. The unemployment rate was 4.7% in February. Click here to go to that data.

Here is the timeline graph of the percentage of 25-54 year-olds employed since 2007. Notice how we had been rising before 2016 but it seems to be flattening out.

Here it is going all the way back to 1948

Thursday, March 02, 2017

What Industries Have The Highest Profit Rates?

See The Most Profitable Industries in 2016 by Mary Ellen Biery of Forbes. A student asked about profit rates in class recently since this comes up when we cover market structures. For example, we expect firms in perfect competition to earn an average profit rate or rate of return because, if they are above average, more firms enter, driving prices and the profit rate back down. When there is not enough competition, firms can stay above average. Excerpts:

"Which U.S. industries are the most lucrative? The answer depends on how it’s measured, but based on pre-tax net profit margin, the top money-makers include specialty service providers in accounting, law, health care and real estate, according to the latest ranking from Sageworks, a financial information company.

Accounting-related companies (accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping and payroll service companies) are the most profitable, with net profit amounting to 18.3 percent of sales, on average, based on a financial-statement analysis for privately held companies for the 12 months ended June 30.  Legal services firms and real-estate leasing companies are tied for second and third in profitability, with average net profit margins of 17.4 percent. These industries often make the cut for Sageworks’ annual ranking.
Sageworks Most Profitable Industries 2016

“Some businesses tend to have healthier bottom lines by the very nature of the industries that they operate in,” said Sageworks analyst James Noe. Many of the most profitable industries sell services rather than products, he noted, so their operations don’t require raw materials or other up-front costs that would wind up in the middle of their income statements and eat into the bottom line. “They don’t sell or produce finished goods,” he said. “They don’t make the tractors to sell to farmers or they don’t buy groceries to sell to consumers. In other words, you don’t need plastic to provide an audit for a company; it’s just mostly human capital that’s being utilized, and that lends to a high margin generally.”

Among privately held companies across all industries, the average net profit margin for the 12 months ended June 30 was 7.7 percent. Through its cooperative data model, Sageworks collects and aggregates private-company financial statements from accounting firms, banks and credit unions. Net profit margin has been adjusted to exclude taxes and include owner compensation in excess of their market-rate salaries. These adjustments are commonly made to private-company financials in order to provide a more accurate picture of the companies’ operational performance."

Here is the 2015 list

Here is another good link on profit rates