GDP Preview: Charts You Must See Before the Gross Domestic Product Release

The headline economic signal for the coming week will be Thursday’s advance estimate for first quarter GDP.

In preparation for the Thursday announcement from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, here’s a snapshot of GDP since 1947 together with the real (inflation-adjusted) S&P Composite (NYSE:SPY). The start date is when the BEA began reporting GDP on a quarterly basis. Prior to 1947, GDP was reported annually. To be more precise, what the lower half of the chart shows is the percent change from the preceding period in Real (inflation-adjusted) Gross Domestic Product. I’ve also included recessions, which are determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

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What are mainstream economists forecasting for Q1 2011 GDP? lists a consensus estimate of 1.7%. The Wall Street Journal’s April survey of 56 economists is more optimistic. It has a forecast range of 1.5% to 4.2%, which gives a median of 2.5% and a mean (average) of 2.7%. The full results can be downloaded from the WSJ in Excel format. Here is a table showing current WSJ survey estimates for quarterly GDP throughout 2011.

Here is a chart showing the distribution of Q1 GDP forecasts from the economists surveyed by the WSJ.

Here is a closer look at quarterly GDP since its inception in 1947. Note that the consensus of 1.7 is the current level of the 10-year GDP moving average, which is approximately half the GDP average. The median of the WSJ survey forecasts ia around the middle of the range between the 10-year MA and the long-term GDP average.

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We’ll review these forecasts after the Thursday number is published.

Doug Short Ph.d is the author of