Blog Post

Welcome to the dark side: GDP revision and the non-observed economy

Back in 2009, the United Nations Statistical Commission endorsed a revision to the System of National Accounts (SNA), which sets the international standards for the compilation of national accounts. As a consequence, Eurostat amended the European equivalent of the SNA, i.e. the European System of Accounts (ESA) leading to a revision of GDP figures.

By: and Date: March 2, 2015 European Macroeconomics & Governance Tags & Topics

Back in 2009, the United Nations Statistical Commission endorsed a revision to the System of National Accounts (SNA), which sets the international standards for the compilation of national accounts. As a consequence, Eurostat has amended the European equivalent of the SNA, the European System of Accounts (ESA) leading to a revision of GDP figures.

The changes come from the accounting treatment of some items. Research & Development (R&D) purchases and military weapon systems have been reclassified from intermediate consumption to investments, which increases value added (the difference between output and intermediate consumption), and thus GDP. Additional changes have been introduced in the accounting of pension entitlements, directly affecting the computation of compensation of employees and households’ savings rate. Other measures, such as changes in measurement of financial services, and the classification of head offices, holding companies and Special Purpose Entities, have little or no impact on the GDP numbers.

Source: OECD

The reclassification has had a positive effect on GDP, increasing it on average by 3.5 percentage points for the EU and the Euro area as whole.

Figure 1 shows the average difference between GDP computed with the new and the old standard, retrospectively over the period 2000-2013. The reclassification has had a positive effect on GDP, increasing it on average by 3.5 percentage points for the EU and the Euro area as whole. Country variation is however significant; the impact of the reclassification ranges from 0.3 percentage points in Luxembourg to 9.3 percentage points in Cyprus. Although the revision may have had a visible impact on GDP levels, growth rates are generally less affected.

Unfortunately, Eurostat does not provide a breakdown of how the different accounting changes contribute to the final number. However, the OECD published this month a report disentangling the effect of the different factors for all OECD countries in year 2010 (Figure 2).

Source: OECD

Having a breakdown is important because most countries have used the opportunity of the changeover in standards to also introduce a new statistical benchmark estimate, introducing new sources and methods. The OECD report shows that in some countries this has an important impact, most notably in the Netherlands and the UK (see the light red bar in Figure 2).

Other than that, R&D reclassifications tend to be the item with the largest impact on GDP recalculation, whereas reclassification of military weapon systems has very limited impact, with the exception of Greece. In Europe, the impact of R&D reclassification on 2010 GDP ranges between 0.5 percentage points and 4 percentage points, compared to an OECD average of 2.2.  The effect of the change is highest in Finland and Sweden – which have among the highest gross spending levels on R&D in EU – and lowest in Poland, the Slovak Republic, Luxembourg and Greece (Figure 3).

Source: OECD

The impact of including illegal activities varies across countries. Both the new and the old standards for the compilation of national accounts stated that illegal activities should be included in GDP, but many countries did not explicitly include estimates for these activities, also because the definition of illegal activities was only streamlined by the decision in September 2014. In contrast with the previous system, EU States are now required to comply with common methodological guidelines how to account for prostitution, the production and trafficking of drugs and alcohol and tobacco

This decision was expected to have a differentiated impact across countries, and the OECD breakdown of GDP change between the old and new system make clear the extent of this divergence.

The inclusion of estimated illegal activities results in an increase in 2010 GDP by 1 percentage point in Italy and 0.9 percentage points in Spain.

In Figure 3, Italy and Spain stand out as two special cases. The inclusion of estimated illegal activities results in an increase in 2010 GDP by 1 percentage point in Italy and 0.9 percentage points in Spain. This is about five times the average for the OECD as a whole, which was 0.2 in 2010. Perhaps even more striking is the fact that in these two countries the impact of including illegal activities is only slightly smaller than the impact of reclassifying R&D (which increased 2010 GDP by 1.3 pp in Italy and 1.2 pp in Spain).

Apart from illegal activities, GDP numbers can also be influenced by the share of countries’ ‘legal’ shadow economies, defined as all market-based legal production of goods and services which are deliberately concealed from public authorities.

A report on the shadow economy in Europe shows that its size reached a 10-year low in 2013. Several reasons might explain this development: improving economic conditions, the dramatic contraction of the construction-sector in several crisis-hit countries (which is historically a sector with a large shadow economy), a crack-down on tax evasion in recent years and generally stricter law enforcement.

Source: Schneider Friedrich (2013), ‘The Shadow Economy in Europe, 2013’, ATKearney

Interesting to note is the comparatively small size of the shadow economy in Western Europe, with Southern and Eastern Europe exhibiting substantially higher shadow economy activities in % of GDP. The euro area is characterized by a great heterogeneity, with the size of the shadow economy in % of GDP in 2013 varying from just 7.5% in Austria to 27.6% in Estonia. In absolute numbers, the shadow economies in Italy and Germany were as large as Austrian GDP in 2013. Statistical offices make adjustments to account for shadow economy in order to arrive at exhaustive estimates of GDP and national accounts (see OECD)

A report on the shadow economy in Europe shows that its size reached a 10-year low in 2013.

The rationale for streamlining guidelines for both the inclusion of legal and illegal activities in the national accounting – which has been extensively debated in the media – is that GDP is supposed to be comparable across countries, independently of differences in national law. As recently pointed out by the OECD, international comparability has become even more important, as contributions to international organisations (including e.g. the European Union) are based on levels of Gross National Income, which is linked to GDP.

 


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint. Anyone is free to republish and/or quote this post without prior consent. Please provide a full reference, clearly stating Bruegel and the relevant author as the source, and include a prominent hyperlink to the original post.

View comments
Read about event More on this topic

Upcoming Event

Jun
27
08:30

Britain and the EU after the referendum

No matter the result, the UK's referendum on EU membership will be an important moment for Britain and Europe. The days after the result will offer an opportunity to reflect on what has happened, and what has changed.

Speakers: Maria Demertzis, André Sapir, Philipp Steinberg, Glenn Vaughan, James Watson and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Nicolas Véron

The UK / EU separation: how fast does it happen?

Up until the British rebuff on 23 June 2016, the European Union had always been in expansion mode, also known in EU parlance as enlargement. The UK vote to leave the EU marks the first-ever case of this process being reversed.

By: Nicolas Véron Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 25, 2016
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

MariaDemertzis1 bw

Initial market reactions to Brexit

Initial market reactions to Brexit

By: Maria Demertzis Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 24, 2016
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Podcast

Podcast

Brexit: what happens next

On 23 June, the UK voted to leave the European Union. What will the UK’s new relationship with the EU look like?

By: Bruegel Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 24, 2016
Read article Download PDF

Policy Contribution

screenshot-bruegel.org 2016-06-23 15-45-59European Parliament

The effectiveness of the European Central Bank’s Asset Purchase Programme

Since the end of 2014, inflation has been at or very close to zero. With very little ability to move the actual interest rate further into negative territory, the ECB has resorted to unconventional measures. The latest of these includes a programme to purchase corporate bonds, which started on 8 June 2016.

By: Maria Demertzis and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, European Parliament, Parliamentary Testimonies Date: June 23, 2016
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Uuriintuya Batsaikhan

The day after Brexit: what do we know?

With the UK referendum on EU membership on 23 June, Europe is contemplating the practical consequences of a vote to leave.

By: Uuriintuya Batsaikhan Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 22, 2016
Read about event More on this topic

Upcoming Event

Jul
12
13:00

Does the euro area need a sovereign insolvency mechanism?

The sovereign debt crisis shook the Euro to its foundations. It soon became clear that there was no mechanism to allow a tidy insolvency of a state wishing to remain inside the euro area. To face future crises, does the EU need a sovereign insolvency mechanism?

Speakers: Jochen Andritzky, Lars Feld and Further speakers to be confirmed Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

MariaDemertzis1 bw

Corporates are responding to the new ECB corporate sector purchase programme

We have observed a sharp increase in corporate bond issuance following the ECB’s announcement in March this year, but it is too early to see the effects on investment by non-financial corporations.

By: Maria Demertzis Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 16, 2016
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

Zsolt Darvas
Alvaro Leandro

Implementation of European Semester recommendations worsens further

Economic policy coordination in the EU hardly works: the implementation of economic policy recommendations made in the context of the European Semester was modest in 2011, and has deteriorated in each year since then.

By: Zsolt Darvas and Alvaro Leandro Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 15, 2016
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Podcast

Podcast

European fiscal rules

The current European fiscal framework is inefficient and relies on indicators that are badly estimated. How can the rules be improved and what can a European fiscal council add to this?

By: Bruegel Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 15, 2016
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

MariaDemertzis1 bw
Alvaro Leandro

Brexit fears weigh on markets in euro-area periphery

Markets are beginning to price in the possibility that the EU will look different on the 24th of June.

By: Maria Demertzis and Alvaro Leandro Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 14, 2016
Read article

Blog Post

MariaDemertzis1 bw

Are central bank(er)s still credible?

Both the Fed and the ECB have managed to remain credible since the financial crisis, but their credibility levels have evolved differently. Since inflation in the US and the euro area has been similar in the past 8 years, the difference in the way that credibility has evolved is the result of the different macroeconomic policy mix applied.

By: Maria Demertzis and Nicola Viegi Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 14, 2016
Load more posts