Tag: Nominal GDP

To make a sensible comparison of one year’s national income generated from the production of goods and services with another we need to take inflation into account. Changes in inflation-adjusted GDP represent changes in the volume of production of a country’s goods and services: in other words, the real value of goods and services. We revisit the blog written back in April 2019, prior the pandemic, to show how changes in real GDP evidence what we may refer to as the twin characteristics of economic growth: positive long-term growth but with fluctuating short-term rates of growth.

Real and nominal GDP

The nominal or current-price estimate for UK Gross Domestic Product in 2020 is £2.156 trillion. It is the value of output produced within the country in 2020. This was a fall of 4.4 per cent on the £2.255 trillion recorded in 2019. These values make no adjustment for inflation and therefore reflect the prices of output that were prevailing at the time.

Chart 1 shows current-price estimates of GDP from 1950 when the value of GDP was estimated at £12.7 billion. The increase to £2.156 trillion in 2020 amounts to a proportionate increase of almost 170 times, a figure that rises to 211 times if we compare the 1950 value with the latest IMF estimate for 2025 of £2.689 trillion. However, if we want to make a more meaningful comparison of the country’s national income by looking at the longer-term increase in the volume of production, we need to adjust for inflation. (Click here to download a PowerPoint copy of the chart.)

Long-term growth in real GDP

If we measure GDP at constant prices, we eliminate the effect of inflation. To construct a constant-price series for GDP a process known as chain-linking is used. This involves taking consecutive pairs of years, e.g. 2020 and 2021, and estimating what GDP would be in the most recent year (in this case, 2021) if the previous year’s prices (i.e. 2020) had continued to prevail. By calculating the percentage change from the previous year’s GDP value we have an estimate of the volume change. If this is repeated for other pairs of years, we have a series of percentage changes that capture the volume changes from year-to-year. Finally, a reference year is chosen and the percentage changes are applied backwards and forwards from the nominal GDP value for the reference year – the volume changes forwards and backwards from this point.

In effect, a real GDP series creates a quantity measure in monetary terms. Chart 1 shows GDP at constant 2019 prices (real GDP) alongside GDP at current prices (nominal GDP). Consider first the real GDP numbers for 1950 and 2020. GDP in 1950 at 2019 prices was £410.1 billion. This is higher than the current-price value because prices in 2019 (the reference year) were higher than those in 1950. Meanwhile, GDP in 2020 when measured at 2019 prices was £2.037 trillion. This constant-price value is smaller than the corresponding current-price value because prices in 2019 where lower than those in 2020.

Between 1950 and 2020 real GDP increased 5.0 times. If we extend the period to 2025, again using the latest IMF estimates, the increase is 5.9 times. Because we have removed the effect of inflation, the real growth figure is much lower than the nominal growth figure. Crucially, what we are left with is an indicator of the long-term growth in the volume of the economy’s output and hence an increase in national income that is backed up by an increase in production. Whereas nominal growth rates are affected both by changes in volumes and prices, real growth rates reflect only changes in volumes.

The upward trajectory observed in constant-price GDP is therefore evidence of positive longer-term growth. This is one of the twin characteristics of growth.

Short-term fluctuations in the growth of real GDP

The second characteristic is fluctuations in the rate of growth from period to period. We can see this second characteristic more clearly by plotting the percentage change in real GDP from year to year.

Chart 2 shows the annual rate of growth in real GDP each year since 1950. From it, we see the inherent instability that is a key characteristic of the macroeconomic environment. This instability is, of course, mirrored in the output path of real GDP in Chart 1, but the annual rates of growth show the instability more clearly. We can readily see the impact on national output of the global financial crisis and the global health emergency.

In 2009, constant-price GDP in the UK fell by 4.25 per cent. Then, in 2020, constant-price GDP and, hence, the volume of national output fell by 9.7 per cent, as compared to a 4.4 per cent fall in current-price GDP that we identified earlier. These global, ‘once-in-a-generation’ shocks are stark examples of the instability that characterises economies and which generate the ‘ups and downs’ in an economy’s output path, known more simply as ‘the business cycle’. (Click here to download a PowerPoint copy of the chart.)

Determinants of long-and short-term growth

The twin characteristics of growth can be seen simultaneously by combining the output path captured by the levels of real GDP with the annual rates of growth. This is shown in Chart 3. The longer-term growth seen in the economy’s output path is generally argued to be driven by the quantity and quality of the economy’s resources, and their effectiveness when combined in production. In other words, it is the supply-side that determines the trajectory of the output path over the longer term. (Click here to download a PowerPoint copy of the chart.)

However, the fluctuations we observe in short-term growth rates tend to reflect impulses that affect the ability and or willingness of producers to supply (supply-side shocks) and purchasers to consume (demand-side shocks). These impulses are then propagated and their effects, therefore, transmitted through the economy.

Effects of the pandemic

The pandemic is unusual in that the health intervention measures employed by governments around the world resulted in simultaneous negative aggregate demand and aggregate supply shocks. Economists were particularly concerned that the magnitude of these impulses and their propagation had the potential to generate scarring effects and hence negative hysteresis effects. The concern was that these would affect the level of real GDP in the medium-to-longer term and, hence, the vertical position of the output path, as well as the longer-term rate of growth and, hence, the steepness of the output path.

The extent of these scarring effects continues to be debated. The ability of businesses and workers to adapt their practices, the extraordinary fiscal and monetary measures that were undertaken in many countries, and the roll-out of vaccines programmes, especially in advanced economies, have helped to mitigate some of these effects. For example, the latest IMF forecasts for output in the USA in 2024 are over 2 per cent higher than those made back in October 2019.

Scarring effects are, however, thought to be an ongoing issue in the UK. The IMF is now expecting output in the UK to be nearly 3 per cent lower than it originally forecast back in October 2019. Therefore, whilst UK output is set to recover, scarring effects on the UK economy will mean that the output path traced out by real GDP will remain, at least in the medium term, vertically lower than was expected before the pandemic.

Data and Reports



  1. What do you understand by the term ‘macroeconomic environment’? What data could be used to describe the macroeconomic environment?
  2. When a country experiences positive rates of inflation, which is higher: nominal economic growth or real economic growth?
  3. Does an increase in nominal GDP mean a country’s production has increased? Explain your answer.
  4. Does a decrease in nominal GDP mean a country’s production has decreased? Explain your answer.
  5. Why does a change in the growth of real GDP allow us to focus on what has happened to the volume of production?
  6. What does the concept of the ‘business cycle’ have to do with real rates of economic growth?
  7. When would falls in real GDP be classified as a recession?
  8. Distinguish between the concepts of ‘short-term growth rates’ and ‘longer-term growth’.
  9. What do you understand by the term hysteresis? By what means can hysteresis effects be generated?
  10. Discuss the proposition that the pandemic could have a positive effect on longer-term growth rates because of the ways that people and business have had to adapt.

Sustained economic growth in Japan remains elusive. Preliminary Quarterly Estimates of GDP point to the Japanese economy having contracted by 0.4 per cent in the final quarter of 2015. This follows on from growth of 0.3 per cent in the third quarter, a contraction of 0.3 per cent in the second and growth of 1 per cent in the first quarter. Taken as a whole output in 2015 rose by 0.4 per cent compared to zero growth in 2014. The fragility of growth means that over the past 20 years the average annual rate of growth in Japan is a mere 0.8 per cent.

Chart 1 shows the quarter-to-quarter change in real GDP in Japan since the mid 1990s (Click here to download a PowerPoint of the chart). While economies are known to be inherently volatile the Japanese growth story over the past twenty or years so is one both of exceptional volatility and of repeated bouts of recession. Since the mid 1990s Japan has experienced 6 recessions, four since 2008.

Of the four recessions since 2008, the deepest was that from 2008 Q2 to 2009 Q1 which saw the economy shrink by 9.2 per cent. This was followed by a recession from 2010 Q4 to 2011 Q2 when the economy shrunk by 3.1 per cent, then from 2012 Q2 to 2012 Q4 when the economy shrunk by 0.9 per cent and from 2014 Q2 to 2014 Q3 when output fell another 2.7 per cent. As a result of these four recessionary periods the economy’s output in 2015 Q4 was actually 0.4 per cent less than in 2008 Q1.

Chart 2 shows the annual levels of nominal (actual) and real (constant-price) GDP in trillions of Yen (¥) since 1995. (Click here to download a PowerPoint of the chart). Over the period actual GDP has fallen from ¥502 trillion to ¥499 trillion (about £3 trillion at the current exchange rate) while GDP at constant 2005 prices has risen from ¥455 trillion to ¥528 trillion.

Chart 2 reveals an interesting phenomenon: the growth in real GDP at the same time as a fall in nominal GDP. So why has the actual value of GDP fallen slightly between 1995 and 2005? The answer is quite simple: deflation.

Chart 3 shows a protracted period of economy-wide deflation from 1999 to 2013. (Click here to download a PowerPoint of the chart). Over this period the GDP deflator fell each year by an average of 1.0 per cent. 2014 and 2015 saw a pick up in economy-wide inflation. However, the quarterly profile through 2015 shows the pace of inflation falling quite markedly. As we saw in Japan’s interesting monetary stance as deflation fears grow, policymakers are again concerned about the possibility of deflation and the risks that poses for growth.

As Chart 4 helps to demonstrate, a significant factor behind the latest slowdown in Japan’s growth is household spending. (Click here to download a PowerPoint of the chart). In 2015 household spending accounted for about 57 per cent by value of GDP in Japan. In the last quarter of 2015 real household spending fell by 0.9 per cent while across 2015 as a whole real household spending fell by 1.3 per cent. This follows on from a 0.8 per cent decrease in spending by households in 2014.

The recent marked weakening of household spending is a significant concern for the short term growth prospects of the Japanese economy. The roller coaster ride continues, unfortunately it appears that the ride is again downwards.


Quarterly Estimates of GDP Japanese Cabinet Office
Japan and the IMF IMF Country Reports
Economic Outlook Annex Tables OECD


Japan’s economy contracts in fourth quarter BBC News, (15/2/16)
Japanese economy shrinks again, raising expectations of more stimulus Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (15/2/16)
Japan’s economy shrinks again as Abenomics is blown off course Guardian, Justin McCurry (15/2/16)
Japan’s economy contracts in latest setback for Abe policies New Zealand Herald, (15/2/16)
Japan’s ‘Abenomics’ on the ropes as yen soars, markets plunge Daily Mail, (15/2/16)
Japan economy shrinks more than expected, highlights lack of policy options CNBC, Leika Kihara and Tetsushi Kajimoto (15/2/16)


  1. Why is the distinction between nominal and real important in analysing economic growth?
  2. How do we define a recession?
  3. Of what importance is aggregate demand to the volatility of economies?
  4. Why are Japanese policymakers concerned about the prospects of deflation?
  5. What policy options are available to policymakers trying to combat deflation?
  6. Why is the strength of household consumption important in affecting the path of an economy?
  7. Why has Japan experienced an increase in real GDP but a fall in nominal GDP between 1995 and 2015?

When you are next in town shopping, just keep in mind that consumer spending accounts for a little over 60 per cent of GDP. Therefore, consumption is incredibly important to the economy. How consumers behave is crucial to our short-term economic growth. The second estimate of British growth from the Office for National Statistics shows that the economy expanded by 0.3 per cent in the first three months of 2013. This follows a 0.3 per cent decline in the final quarter of 2012. Real household expenditure rose by just 0.1 per cent in Q1 2013. However, this was the sixth consecutive quarter in which the volume of purchases by households has grown.

The growth in the economy is measured by changes in real GDP. Chart 1 shows the quarter-to-quarter change in real GDP since Q1 2008. (Click here to download a PowerPoint of the chart). During this period the economy is thought to have contracted in 10 of the 21 quarters shown. Furthermore, they show a double-dip recession and so two periods in close proximity where output shrank for two or more quarters. While more recent output numbers are frequently revised, which could see the double-dip recession possibly ‘statistically wiped’ from history, the period since 2008 will always been one characterised by anemic growth. The average quarterly growth rate since Q1 2008 has been -0.12 per cent.

Chart 2 shows from Q1 2008 the quarterly growth in household expenditure in real terms, i.e. after stripping the effect of consumer price inflation. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart). Over the period, the volume of household consumption has typically fallen by 0.18 per cent per quarter. Hence, consumption has feared a little worse than the economy has a whole.

While the annualised rate of growth for the economy since Q1 2008 has averaged -0.47 per cent that for consumer spending has averaged -0.73 per cent. However, these figures disguise a recent improvement in consumer spending growth. This is because the volume of consumption has in fact grown in each of the six quarters since Q4 2011. In contrast, the economy has grown in only 2 of these quarters. It is, of course, much too early to start trumpeting consumption growth has heralding better times, not least because the 0.1 per cent growth in Q1 2013 is the weakest number since positive consumption growth resumed at the back end of 2011. Nonetheless, the figures do deserve some analysis by economists to understand what is going on.

A slightly less promising note is struck by the gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) numbers. These numbers relate to the volume of investment in non-financial fixed assets, such as machinery, buildings, office space and fixtures and fittings. Chart 3 shows the quarterly growth in the volume of GFCF since Q1 2008. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart). The average quarterly rate of growth over this period has been -0.77 per cent. This is equivalent to an annual rate of decline of 3.9 per cent. GFCF has risen in only 7 of these quarters, declining in the remaining 14 quarters.

Worryingly, gross fixed capital formation has decreased in each of the last three quarters. While these figures may reflect continuing difficulties encountered by businesses in obtaining finance, they may also point to lingering concerns within the business community about the prospects for sustained growth. Therefore, it is important for economists to try and understand the drivers of these disappointing investment numbers and, hence, whether it is these or the slightly better consumption numbers that best hint at our short-term economic prospects.


Second estimate of GDP, Q1 2013 Office for National Statistics
Second Estimate of GDP, Q1 2013 Dataset Office for National Statistics


UK GDP: concerns about underlying economy as 0.3pc growth confirmed Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (23/5/13)
UK investment fall among worst in G8 Guardian, Phillip Inman (23/5/13)
UK first-quarter growth unchanged BBC News (28/5/13)
U.K. Economy Grows 0.3% on Inventories, Consumer Spending Bloomberg, Svenja O’Donnell (23/5/13)
Surge in consumer spending kept UK out of recession The Telegraph (28/5/13)
Boost in service sector activity The Herald, Greig Cameron (28/5/13)
Hopes dashed as household spending rises by just 0.1% The Herald, Ian McConnell (24/5/13)


  1. Why do we typically focus on real GDP rather than nominal GDP when analysing economic growth?
  2. What is meant by aggregate demand? Of what importance is consumer spending to aggregate demand?
  3. Why might the patterns we observe in consumer spending differ from those in other components of aggregate demand?
  4. What factors might influence the determination of consumer spending?
  5. What do you understand by gross fixed capital formation? What factors might help to explain how its level is determined?
  6. Of what significance is gross fixed capital formation for aggregate demand and for aggregate supply?
  7. What is a recession? What is a double-dip recession?
  8. What data would you need to collect to identify a recession?

We know two things about economic growth in a developed economy like the UK: it is positive over the longer term, but highly volatile in the short term. We can refer to these two facts as the twin characteristics of growth. The volatility of growth sees occasional recessions, i.e. two or more consecutive quarters of declining output. Since 1973, the UK has experienced six recessions.

Here we consider in a little more detail the growth numbers for the UK from the latest Quarterly National Accounts, focusing on the depth and duration of these six recessions. How do they compare?

The latest figures on British economic growth show that the UK economy grew by 0.9 per cent in the third quarter of 2012. However, when compared with the third quarter of 2011, output was essentially unchanged. This means that the annual rate of growth was zero. Perhaps even more telling is that output (real GDP) in Q3 2012 was still 3.0 per cent below its Q1 2008 level.

The chart helps to put the recent output numbers into an historical context. It shows both the quarter-to-quarter changes in real GDP (right-hand axis) and the level of output as measured by GDP at constant 2009 prices (left-hand axis). It captures nicely the twin characteristics of growth. Since 1970, the average rate of growth each quarter has been 0.6 per cent. This is equivalent to an average rate of growth of 2.35 per cent per year. The chart also allows us to pin-point periods of recessions.

One way of comparing recessions is to compare their ‘2 Ds’: depth and duration. The table shows the number of quarters each of the six recessions since 1973 lasted. It also shows how much smaller the economy was by the end of each recession. In other words, it shows the depth of each recession as measured by the percentage reduction in output (real GDP).

British recessions

Duration (quarters) Depth (output lost, %)
1973Q3–74Q1 3 3.25
1975Q2–75Q3 2 1.76
1980Q1–81Q1 5 4.63
1990Q3–91Q3 5 2.93
2008Q2–09Q2 5 6.28
2011Q4–12Q2 3 0.90

We can see that three of the recessions lasted for five quarters. In the case of the recessions starting in 1975 and 2011 they occurred very shortly after a previous recession. Hence, we observe two so-called double-dip recessions.

The table reveals that the deepest recession by some distance was that in the late 2000s. As a result of this recession, UK output declined by 6.3 per cent. As the recent GDP numbers show, the UK has yet to recover the ‘lost output’ that followed the financial crisis.


Quarterly National Accounts Time Series Dataset Q3 2012 Office for National Statistics
Statistical Bulletin: Quarterly National Accounts Q3 2012 Office for National Statistics


UK economic growth less than expected Sky News UK(21/12/12)
GDP growth revised down to 0.9% Financial Times, Claire Jones (21/12/12)
Uk borrowing higher than expected as GDP revised down BBC News (21/12/12)


  1. What is the difference between nominal and real GDP? Which of these helps to track changes in economic output?
  2. Looking at the chart above, summarise the key patterns in real GDP since the 1970s.
  3. What is a recession? What is a double-dip recession?
  4. Looking at the table, rank the recessions from 1973 by the amount of lost output.
  5. Can a recession occur if nominal GDP is actually rising? Explain your answer.
  6. What factors might result in economic growth being so variable?

Economic growth in developed countries, like the UK, exhibits two important characteristics. First, growth is positive over the long run such that the volume of output increases over time. Second, growth in the short-term is highly variable with patterns in the volume of output creating business cycles. With increased global interdependence through trade and integrated financial systems, domestic business cycles often resemble a global or international business cycle. This was certainly the case during the late 2000s. Recent releases from the Office for National Statistics provide an opportunity to look again at the characteristics of UK economic growth. In particular, they show the importance of differentiating between nominal and real values. Furthermore, revisions to the data have somewhat revised our view of economic growth before and after the economic crisis of the late 2000s.

The value of goods and services produced in the UK in 2010, as measured by GDP, is estimated at £1.46 trillion. This is the nominal GDP estimate because it measures the economy’s output for 2010 using the prices of 2010. Back in 1948, GDP measured at 1948 prices was £11.97 billion. Based on these nominal estimates the size of the UK economy would appear to have grown some 122 times which is the equivalent of growing by 8.1 per cent each year. However, some of this increase relates not to the volume of output but to the prices of the goods and services produced. It is for this reason that when analysing economic growth we ordinarily look at constant-price or real estimates of GDP. Such estimates effectively show what GDP would have been if prices had remained at the levels of a chosen year known as the base year. The base year now being used in the UK is 2008.

GDP at constant 2008 prices in 2010 is estimated at £1.40 trillion as compared with £314.5 billion in 1948. The real GDP figures reveal that the volume of UK output increased not by a factor of 122 but by a factor of 4.44; this is the equivalent to growth of 2.4 per cent each year.

The nominal GDP estimates for each year from 1948 up to 2010 rise with only one exception: 2009. In 2009, nominal GDP fell by 2.8 per cent. However, over the same period, real GDP fell during seven of the years. What this tells us, is that in six of the seven years, price increases were enough to offset falls in the volume of output such that nominal GDP increased. However, in 2009, the average price of the economy’s output, which is measured by the GDP deflator, rose by a just a little under 1.7 per cent, while the volume of output and, hence, real GDP, fell by almost 4.4 per cent.

The real annual GDP numbers estimate that the volume of UK output declined both in 2008 and 2009. In 2008 output is thought to have fallen by 1.1 per cent, while in 2009, as we have just seen, it fell by 4.4 per cent. The last time the UK experienced two consecutive annual (yearly) falls in output was in 1980 and 1981 when output fell by 2.1 per cent and 1.3 per cent respectively.

If we want to identify recessions then yearly GDP numbers will not do, rather, we need to use quarterly GDP numbers. This is because we are looking for two consecutive quarters where real GDP (output) declined. The revised GDP data show that the UK experienced five consecutive quarterly falls in real GDP in the late 2000s. We went into recession in Q2 of 2008 and came out in Q3 of 2009. As a result, real GDP was 7 per cent lower than before the UK economy entered recession. The previous recession, from Q3 of 1990 to Q3 of 1991 (5 quarters), saw UK output fall by 2.5 per cent. Between these two recessions the UK experienced 66 consecutive quarters of economic growth during which time the revised estimates show that the average annual rate of growth was 3 per cent. Compared with the recession of 2008/09, the next deepest recession in recent times occurred between Q1 of 1980 and Q1 of 1981 (5 quarters) when output fell by 4.7 per cent. In other words, these figures help to illustrate the extraordinary depth of the 2008/9 recession.


QE plus Economist (8/10/11)
Cameron steadfast as economy halts Sky News Australia, Matt Falloon and Christina Fincher (6/10/11)
Recession was deeper and recovery slower than expected Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (31/10/11) )
Mr Cameron, GDP and the hole in the recovery BBC News, Stephanie Flanders, (5/10/11)
UK economy grinds to virtual halt AFP (5/10/11) )
Recession concern as economy fails to grown Herald Scotland, Ian McConnell (5/10/11)


Quarterly National Accounts, Q2 2011 Office for National Statistics (5/10/11)
For macroeconomic data for EU countries and other OECD countries, such as the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and Korea, see:
AMECO online European Commission


  1. Explain what you understand by the terms nominal GDP and real GDP. Can you think of other examples of where economists might distinguish between nominal and real variables?
  2. Explain under what circumstances nominal GDP could rise despite the output of the economy falling.
  3. The average annual change in nominal GDP since 1948 is 8.2% while that for real GDP is 2.4%. What do you think we can learn from each of these figures about long-term economic growth in the UK?
  4. What do you understand to be the difference between short-term and long-run economic growth?
  5. What is meant by the concept of a business cycle? In what ways can the characteristics of business cycles differ across time? What about across countries?
  6. How might the position within the business cycle impact on an economy’s potential output?
  7. What factors might influence a country’s long-term rate of economic growth?