Why GDP Will Rise (Not What You Think)
In Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Peter Coy writes an excellent piece on the Bureau of Economic Analysis’s upcoming revision of Gross Domestic Product measurement. That may not sound very interesting but Coy does a great job showing the macro and micro angles. To wit:
On July 31, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis will rewrite history on a grand scale by restating the size and composition of the gross domestic product, all the way back to the first year it was recorded, 1929. The biggest change will be the reclassification—nay, the elevation—of research and development. R&D will no longer be treated as a mere expense, like the electricity bill or food for the company cafeteria. It will be categorized on the government’s books as an investment, akin to constructing a factory or digging a mine. In another victory for intellectual property, original works of art such as films, music, and books will be treated for the first time as long-lived assets.
The U.S. generates a disproportionate share of its wealth from the likes of patents, copyrights, trademarks, designs, cultural creations, and business processes. To see the intangible economy in numbers, look at Apple’s (AAPL) balance sheet: Property, plant, and equipment, those traditional forms of wealth from the industrial and preindustrial eras, account for $15 billion of its $400 billion market value—just 4 percent of the total. They’re only 7 percent of market value at moviemaker Time Warner (TWX) and drugmaker Pfizer (PFE).
The BEA assigns an annual depreciation rate of 10 percent to pharmaceutical R&D assets, vs. 36 percent for computer systems design; 9 percent for movies, but 27 percent for music. In a priceless footnote, it writes: “Long-lived television programs include situation comedies and drama programs. Other types of television programs, including news programs, sporting events, game shows, soap operas, and reality programming, have much shorter service lives and will not be capitalized.”