Photographer: Martin Leissl/Bloomberg

European GDP Will Be Earlier — and Possibly Less Accurate — as of Next Week

The faster release of output numbers could help policy makers

Economy watchers will get euro-area output data 15 days earlier than usual starting next week, though the statistics office may be sacrificing some accuracy for speed. 

When Eurostat releases preliminary flash first-quarter gross domestic product on April 29, it will mark the first time that European Union and euro-area growth has been published in 30 days rather than the typical 45. The new, faster release brings the region into line with the U.S. and U.K., which also publish first estimates within about a month of the end of the quarter. How useful the more timely figure will prove depends on its accuracy.

“As a matter of principle, you would rather get data earlier, especially if it’s robust and reliable,” said Nick Matthews, head of European economic research at Nomura International Plc. in London. “What wouldn’t be as helpful is to get data early that is subsequently revised.”

Estimating the figure earlier is tricky, because it means statisticians have less to work with. In the U.K., for example, the first estimate is based on about 44 percent of the data in the final reading.

“There is a trade-off between timeliness and accuracy,” Luxembourg-based Eurostat said on Friday. That said, the change is a long time coming: a quicker estimate has long been statisticians’ goal, and the methodology allowing for faster release has been tested for several years. During the trial run, growth recently has been revised up between the 30-day and 45-day release.

In addition to the U.K., several EU economies also already release GDP figures after 30 days, including, France, Spain, Belgium, Austria, Latvia and Lithuania, and some national statistics offices will give Eurostat confidential growth data. Eurostat will aggregate countries’ quarter-on-quarter growth rates using the weights of their annual output. The so-called “flash” figure will include only aggregate figures for the EU and the euro area, and the agency will release country estimates in the more detailed 45-day estimate. 

 For policy makers, prompter output information could allow them to shape their economic assessment earlier, giving them longer to communicate their view.

"The ECB assesses euro area GDP growth when monitoring inflation,''  Werner Bier, deputy director for general statistics at the ECB, said in a video released by Eurostat. "The ECB can rely earlier than before on robust European statistics.''

You can check out Eurostat's video on the faster data release here, and here's a paper detailing the new figure. When the first flash report is released on April 29, the statistics agency will also publish two working papers, one about the quality of the data, and another about how countries estimate the third month of data using partial information. 

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