Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

The most important indicator is the GDP report. Basically, the GDP is the widest measure of the state of the economy. The figure is released at 8:30 am EST on the last day of each quarter and reflects the previous quarter. The GDP is the aggregated monetary value of all the goods and services produced by the entire economy during the quarter (with the exception of international activity). The key number to look for is the growth rate of GDP. Generally, the U.S. economy grows at around 2.5-3% per year and deviations from this range can have a significant impact. Growth above this level is often thought to be unsustainable and a precursor to high inflation, and the Fed usually responds by trying to slow down the "overheated" economy. Growth below this range (and especially negative growth) means that the economy is running slowly, which can lead to increased unemployment and lower spending. It is worth noting that each initial GDP report will be revised twice before the final figure is settled upon: the "advance" report is followed by the "preliminary" report about a month later and a final report a month after that. Significant revisions to the advance number can cause additional ripples through the markets. The GDP numbers are reported in two forms: current dollar and constant dollar. Current dollar GDP is calculated using today's dollars and makes comparisons between time periods difficult because of the effects of inflation. Constant dollar GDP solves this problem by converting the current information into some standard era dollar, such as 1997 dollars. This process factors out the effects of inflation and allows easy comparisons between periods. Don't confuse Gross Domestic Product with Gross National Product (GNP). GDP includes only goods and services produced within the geographic boundaries of the U.S., regardless of the producer's nationality. GNP doesn't include goods and services produced by foreign producers, but does include goods and services produced by U.S. firms operating in foreign countries. For example, if a U.S. firm was operating a chain of stores in France, the goods and services produced by those stores would not be included in the GDP, but would be included in the GNP. As the global economy grows, the difference in GDP and GNP is falling for developed countries like the U.S. But for smaller, developing countries, the difference can be substantial. For the latest report, visit the Bureau of Economic Analysis website.

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