The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported the following on July 28:

Real gross domestic product... increased at an annual rate of 2.5 percent in the second quarter of 2006... In the first quarter, real GDP increased 5.6 percent.

Ouch; sounds like the economy slowed down, doesn’t it?

Don’t believe it just yet. In my view, real growth didn’t drop, it *increased*. I’ll explain below, but for now, here’s how I would have reported the Q2 results:

Based on Q1&2 2006 results, real GDP increased at an annual rate of 4.0%. That compares with the Q4&1 result of 3.6% reported last month. The real GDP growth rate increased.

**Explanation**

To calculate the growth rate, the BEA annualizes the one-quarter change in GDP. But an alternative way of calculating it is to annualize the two-quarter change. I’ve been doing that calculation for a year, then posting the result here each month. Here's the latest result:

*[UPDATE: Click here for a brief, explicit summary of the math.]*

Why do I calculate it two different ways? Because the two-quarter method has been a better predictor than the one-quarter method has been. I’ve back-tested both methods, quarter-by-quarter, from 1970 to now. Result: The “annual growth rate” from the 2-qtr method is still a better predictor of GDP four quarters into the future. It has won 58% of the time since 1970, 58% of the time since 1980, and 60% of the time since 1990. (In an election, 60% would be a “landslide.”)

The 2-qtr method yields a growth rate that changes more smoothly quarter-to-quarter; the 1-qtr method is a lot jerkier. [*Important note: The BEA is not in the forecasting business; they are working hard to report what did happen, not what *

*]*

__will__happen, and they are doing an excellent job of it. The 1-qtr method says the economy grew at an annual pace of 2.5% in Q2. Although it’s also a fact that the 2-qtr method yields 4.0%, the BEA only reports the results of the 1-qtr method.Below is a recap of the two methods, going back several quarters.

If you’re interested in a more-detailed comparison, click on the thumbnail immediately below. It’s the simplest way I could think of to show how accurate the two methods are, when used to forecast GDP four quarters into the future. Email me if you have a question about it.

**Bottom line**

Contrary to conventional wisdom, real GDP growth appears (to me) to be accelerating. If that upsets, or confirms, anyone’s political agenda... well, sorry, but it’s purely an accident. I do have some private-sector forecasting experience, and I always prefer the method that yields the more reliable prediction, no matter whose pet theory is affected. In this case, the 2-qtr method has been the more reliable predictor. Real GDP is growing closer to a 4.0% rate than 2.5%.

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