1. Economic Indicators: Introduction
  2. Economic Indicators: Beige Book
  3. Economic Indicators: Business Outlook Survey
  4. Economic Indicators: Consumer Confidence Index (CCI)
  5. Economic Indicators: Consumer Credit Report
  6. Economic Indicators: Consumer Price Index (CPI)
  7. Economic Indicators: Durable Goods Report
  8. Economic Indicators: Employee Cost Index (ECI)
  9. Economic Indicators: Employee Situation Report
  10. Economic Indicators: Existing Home Sales
  11. Economic Indicators: Factory Orders Report
  12. Economic Indicators: Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
  13. Economic Indicators: Housing Starts
  14. Economic Indicators: Industrial Production
  15. Economic Indicators: Jobless Claims Report
  16. Economic Indicators: Money Supply
  17. Economic Indicators: Mutual Fund Flows
  18. Economic Indicators: Non-Manufacturing Report
  19. Economic Indicators: Personal Income and Outlays
  20. Economic Indicators: Producer Price Index (PPI)
  21. Economic Indicators: Productivity Report
  22. Economic Indicators: Purchasing Managers Index (PMI)
  23. Economic Indicators: Retail Sales Report
  24. Economic Indicators: Trade Balance Report
  25. Economic Indicators: Wholesale Trade Report

“The Productivity and Costs Report” is a quarterly release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) that measures the level of output that is achieved by businesses per unit of labor. In this context, output is measured by using previously-released gross domestic product (GDP) figures; input is measured in hours worked and the associated costs of that labor. The unit labor costs that are provided take into account more detail than is provided in the earlier labor reports, including the effects of employee benefit plans, stock options expensing and taxes.

Percentage changes, presented in annualized rates, are the key figures released with this report. Separate productivity rates are released for the business sector, non-farm business sector and manufacturing. Manufacturing is kept separate because, unlike the rest of the data, total volume output is used instead of GDP figures, and it also shows the highest volatility of any of the industry groups.

Productivity figures are provided across the economy as a whole, as well as for major industry groups and sub-sectors—it is a very thorough and detailed release, which is the main reason for the long time lag between period end and data release. The BLS will begin with total GDP figures, then remove government production and non-profit contributions to arrive at a GDP component that represents just "corporate America."

Why The Productivity Report is important

Increased productivity is the ability of a company to achieve more output with the same workforce level. Strong productivity gains have been one of the most important reasons that the U.S. economy has expanded for the past 25 years. Productivity gains have historically led to gains in real income, lower inflation and increased corporate profitability. A company that is increasing output with the same number of hours worked will likely be more profitable, which means that it can raise wages without passing that cost on to customers, which keeps inflation pressures down, while adding to GDP growth.

The productivity report does not give investors any new data sets; its value is in the calculations and derivations the BLS computes on previously-released data.

Strengths:

  • Presents the results of many complex calculations that are difficult for investors to compute on their own
  • Productivity gives good insight into inflationary pressures, and how much GDP can grow without causing concurrent gains in inflation
  • Jumps in productivity tend to make their way to corporate bottom lines quickly via margin expansion
  • Release shows results with and without the effects of inflation
  • Detailed productivity measures at the industry and sector level allow investors to analyze the relative productivity performance of many of their holdings
  • One of very few indicators that shows results compared to other advanced economies; shows how the U.S. stacks up against the world in terms of productivity gains
  • Productivity results represent the lion's share of total GDP (about 75%); only government results and nonprofit groups are removed from calculations

Weaknesses:

  • Not timely; first report comes five weeks after the quarter, and the revised report nearly two months
  • No new series of data is released, only derivations of previous data sets
  • Can be very volatile quarter to quarter; long-term measurements are the most effective use of this indicator when analyzing sustainable, long-term rates of productivity growth

Economic Indicators: Purchasing Managers Index (PMI)
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