Statistical analysis: IMF releases Quarterly National Accounts Manual to help countries meet international standards

Quarterly national accounts are an increasingly important specialty within national accounting as more and more countries recognize the importance of quarterly series of national accounts in the management and analysis of the economy. Accordingly, while only a minority of IMF member countries have the benefit of a well-established system of quarterly national accounts, their number is rapidly growing. To address the rising demand for information and training on producing these quarterly series, in May 2001 the IMF released a new Quarterly National Accounts Manual. The IMF Statistics Department has drafted the new Manual to help countries establish or strengthen their quarterly national accounts to meet international standards and best practice principles in concepts and compilation. The Manual takes its place alongside the other manuals the Statistics Department has prepared or is preparing, including the Balance of Payments Manual, the Government Finance Statistics Manual, and the Monetary and Financial Statistics Manual. The new Quarterly National Accounts Manual, like all of these manuals, is fully consistent with the overarching international statistical accounting standard—the System of National Accounts 1993.

Abstract

Quarterly national accounts are an increasingly important specialty within national accounting as more and more countries recognize the importance of quarterly series of national accounts in the management and analysis of the economy. Accordingly, while only a minority of IMF member countries have the benefit of a well-established system of quarterly national accounts, their number is rapidly growing. To address the rising demand for information and training on producing these quarterly series, in May 2001 the IMF released a new Quarterly National Accounts Manual. The IMF Statistics Department has drafted the new Manual to help countries establish or strengthen their quarterly national accounts to meet international standards and best practice principles in concepts and compilation. The Manual takes its place alongside the other manuals the Statistics Department has prepared or is preparing, including the Balance of Payments Manual, the Government Finance Statistics Manual, and the Monetary and Financial Statistics Manual. The new Quarterly National Accounts Manual, like all of these manuals, is fully consistent with the overarching international statistical accounting standard—the System of National Accounts 1993.

Quarterly national accounts are an increasingly important specialty within national accounting as more and more countries recognize the importance of quarterly series of national accounts in the management and analysis of the economy. Accordingly, while only a minority of IMF member countries have the benefit of a well-established system of quarterly national accounts, their number is rapidly growing. To address the rising demand for information and training on producing these quarterly series, in May 2001 the IMF released a new Quarterly National Accounts Manual. The IMF Statistics Department has drafted the new Manual to help countries establish or strengthen their quarterly national accounts to meet international standards and best practice principles in concepts and compilation. The Manual takes its place alongside the other manuals the Statistics Department has prepared or is preparing, including the Balance of Payments Manual, the Government Finance Statistics Manual, and the Monetary and Financial Statistics Manual. The new Quarterly National Accounts Manual, like all of these manuals, is fully consistent with the overarching international statistical accounting standard—the System of National Accounts 1993.

The new Manual draws on the technical assistance experience of the Statistics Department in support of IMF member countries’ desire to subscribe to the Special Data Dissemination Standard (SDDS), one requirement of which is the production and dissemination of timely quarterly national accounts statistics. The Manual also draws heavily on material prepared for regional seminars on quarterly national accounts in Thailand (1997 and 1998) and Jordan (2000). Finally, the Manual has benefited from comments from country experts during a focus group meeting the IMF convened in June 2000.

Like the IMF’s seminars on quarterly national accounts, the Manual’s intended audience is compilers who already have experience in applying national accounting concepts and methods to the production of annual national accounts series and are in the process of introducing or improving a quarterly system. It will also be of interest to national accounts compilers in general and to users requiring an in-depth knowledge of sources and methods of quarterly national accounts data.

Guidelines

The Manual promulgates some broad guidelines for compiling quarterly national accounts:

  • Quarterly national accounts should be built on a foundation of timely and accurate quarterly source data that directly cover a high proportion of the accounting aggregates being tracked. Econometric methods and indirect behavioral models are not a substitute for primary data comprising direct measurements of the concepts—such as household consumption expenditure—being measured.

  • The quarterly series for any given national accounts aggregate should be consistent with the corresponding but independently derived annual series. Annual national accounts series are produced with a broader array of source data but with a longer lag than quarterly series. So-called benchmarking methods should be employed to align the quarterly national accounts series with their annual counterparts, partly for the convenience of users and partly—and more fundamentally—because the benchmarking methods anchor the quarterly series to the more comprehensive source data underlying the annual accounts.

  • Data that are timely generally cannot employ all of the quarterly and annual information that eventually becomes available, because this information is not in hand within a short period—for example, three months—after the end of the quarter of interest. Timely quarterly national accounts therefore must be revised as new data sources become available for recent periods on which preliminary estimates have already been released. The potential inconvenience of revisions to users can best be handled by making revisions on a predictable and public schedule and with adequate public notice and explanation.

  • Quarterly national accounts data should be presented as a long time series.

  • The potential scope of quarterly national accounts is the whole System of National Accounts 1993 sequence of accounts, comprising goods and services, income, use of income, capital, financial, and balance sheet accounts. Although GDP and its components—the usual starting point—are important selected aggregates within the first four of these accounts, the other parts of the national accounts system are critical to specific areas of economic management and analysis and become feasible as a country’s statistical system develops.

  • Seasonally adjusted data, trend data, and unadjusted data all provide useful perspectives on developments in quarterly national accounts series over time, but the unadjusted data should be the foundation of national accounts compilation.

Within these guidelines, the sources, methods, and scope of each country’s quarterly national accounts system will differ according to user preferences, availability of source data, and general economic conditions. Accordingly, the Manual’s objective is to indicate a range of acceptable alternatives and to set out general principles that can be applied to develop a quarterly national accounts system suitable to each country’s circumstances. It does not give a fixed set of recommendations that must be applied to all situations.

Applications

The Manual will be used in future quarterly national accounts training courses presented by the IMF and as an aid in future quarterly national accounts technical cooperation and assistance projects. Beyond this, however, the IMF hopes the Manual will support the introduction, improvement, and wise use of quarterly national accounts in many countries. When the Manual was being drafted, completed chapters were posted on the IMF’s website for comment. These chapters received a very large number of “hits,” and the Statistics Department has received significant indirect feedback that the prepublication version has already been influential in the formulation of quarterly national accounts statistical programs around the world.

In drafting the Manual, IMF staff in the Statistics Department were able to draw on their experiences in national accounting in their home countries, as well as in their work on IMF missions providing technical assistance and advice to member countries.

Copies of Quarterly National Accounts Manual: Concepts, Data Sources, and Compilation, by Adriaan M. Bloem, Robert J. Dippelsman, and Nils Ø. Maehle, are available for $40 each from IMF Publications Services. See below for ordering information.