An Indicator Of Peril

Authored by 720Global's Michael Lebowitz, via RealInvestmentAdvice.com,


Thanks to Jesse Felder, we recently stumbled upon a measure of economic conditions that has reliably signaled every recession since 1948. The data point, Real Value Added, is currently in negative territory and may, therefore, be a harbinger of an economic downturn.  If it is a false signal, it would be the first in a 70-year history of observations.


720Global does not rely on any one data source to determine the pace of economic activity or to formulate recession probabilities. Instead, we analyze data from many different sources to help better understand the likely path of the economy. That said, when a single data source has an indisputable track record, we take notice and look for other corroborating evidence and bring it to your attention.


Gross Value Added (GVA) and Real Value Added (RVA)


GVA is a measure of economic activity, like GDP, but formulated from the production side of the economy. It measures the dollar value of all goods and services produced less all the costs required to produce those goods or services. For example, if 720Global buys $100 worth of wood, $20 worth of other materials and employs $30 worth of labor to build a chair, we have produced a good for $150. If that good is sold for $200, 720Global has created $50 of economic value.


Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the more popular measure of economic activity, calculates the level of commerce based on the dollar value of the final goods and services produced. It may help to think of GDP as economic activity measured from the demand side and GVA as measured from the supply side. Despite the differences, the levels of economic activity reported are remarkably consistent. Since 1948, nominal GDP has averaged annual growth of 6.55% while GVA has averaged 6.50%. It is important to note that, while they track each other very well over the longer term, they are less correlated quarter to quarter.


Economists prefer to measure economic activity without the effect of inflation. If inflation were rampant when making the chair in the example above, some of the incremental value was due to the general trend of rising prices and not value added by 720Global. To strip out the effect of inflation and compute a pure measure of value added, it is commonplace to subtract inflation from GVA. The result is Real Value Added (RVA = GVA less CPI).


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