July 11, 2019

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis is expanding our annual updates that bring the economic picture of previous years into sharper focus. Starting with the July 26 update, we’ll begin revisiting at least five years of national statistics, instead of three, each summer.

In these summer updates, we use newly available data to refine earlier estimates of the nation’s gross domestic product and related statistics. GDP is closely watched as the most comprehensive measure of U.S. economic activity and trends.

The July 26 update will cover quarterly and annual GDP and its major components for 2014 through 2018, plus the first quarter of 2019. It will be released at 8:30 a.m. alongside the advance GDP estimate for the second quarter of 2019.

The updated statistics will incorporate new and more complete data from the Census Bureau, the federal budget, the IRS, the Agricultural Department, and other sources.

The update also will incorporate improved prices for information and communication technology, including cellphones, and consumer spending data on tobacco and video streaming from newly identified private sources. Air transportation and other services data from Census’ quarterly Services Survey also will be rolled in for the first time.

Each vintage of quarterly or annual GDP is based on the information available at the time it was produced by BEA. The first estimate of any given quarter’s GDP (known as the advance estimate) is akin to a snapshot. More complete source data that can sharpen the picture arrive weeks, months, and even years later. That’s why BEA follows a schedule of updates to continue improving our statistics.

In addition to annual updates, we perform comprehensive updates about every five years – the most recent was in July 2018. Comprehensive updates incorporate data from the Census Bureau’s once-every five-years economic census. Comprehensive updates reach back quite far, sometimes carrying methodological improvements or changes in definitions all the way back to 1929. Updating previously published statistics is important to maintain consistent long-term datasets.

Although the figures may fluctuate modestly over the months and years of updates, the big picture of long-term growth and business cycles captured by our initial GDP estimates continues to hold up well, BEA studies show.

The expansion of annual updates to cover five years, instead of three, will help BEA improve seasonal adjustment of data, which removes the fluctuations that normally occur at the same time each year, such as holiday shopping. The longer time period allows BEA to better incorporate updated seasonal adjustments in published estimates.

In the July 26 update, the reference year for index numbers and chained-dollar estimates will remain 2012.

Here’s a quick guide to the cycle of each quarter’s GDP, from the first estimate through the comprehensive update:


•     About a month after a quarter ends
•     A closely watched first look at the general economic picture


•     About two months after the quarter ends
•     Reflects more complete source data


•     About three months after the quarter ends
•     More data means less reliance on projections


•     Every summer
•     Includes a substantial influx of comprehensive data, such as annual surveys or tax data
•     Also may reflect improvements in methodology
•     Updates annual and quarterly estimates for the previous five years (and sometimes more)
•     Updates the first quarter of the current year, too


•     Typically once every five years
•     Includes the most comprehensive available data, including from the economic census
•     Captures changes in the production environment in the U.S. economy
•     Incorporates changes in how the economy is measured
•     Reflects changes in international statistical standards
•     Recalculates annual statistics dating back to 1929
•     Recalculates quarterly statistics back to 1947

The cycle of GDP updates reflects BEA’s dedication to timeliness, accuracy, and completeness.