real vs. nominal in economics


economics Economics () is a social science Social science is the Branches of science, branch of science devoted to the study of society, societies and the Social relation, relationships among individuals within those societies. The term was fo ...

, nominal value is measured in terms of money, whereas real value is measured against goods or services. A real value is one which has been adjusted for
inflation In economics, inflation refers to a general progressive increase in prices of goods and services in an economy. When the general price level rises, each unit of currency buys fewer goods and services; consequently, inflation corresponds to a r ...

, enabling comparison of quantities as if the prices of goods had not changed on average. Changes in value in real terms therefore exclude the effect of inflation. In contrast with a real value, a nominal value has not been adjusted for inflation, and so changes in nominal value reflect at least in part the effect of inflation.

Commodity bundles, price indices and inflation

A commodity bundle is a sample of
goods In economics Economics () is the social science that studies how people interact with value; in particular, the Production (economics), production, distribution (economics), distribution, and Consumption (economics), consumption of goods ...
, which is used to represent the sum total of goods across the economy to which the goods belong, for the purpose of comparison across different times (or locations). At a single point of time, a commodity bundle consists of a list of goods, and each good in the list has a market price and a quantity. The market value of the good is the market price times the quantity at that point of time. The nominal value of the commodity bundle at a point of time is the total market value of the commodity bundle, depending on the market price, and the quantity, of each good in the commodity bundle which are current at the time. A
price index A price index (''plural'': "price indices" or "price indexes") is a normalized average (typically a weighted average) of price A price is the (usually not negative) quantity of payment or compensation given by one party to another in re ...
is the relative price of a commodity bundle. A price index can be measured over time, or at different locations or markets. If it is measured over time, it is a series of values P_t over time t. A
time series In mathematics Mathematics (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as quantity (number theory), mathematical structure, structure (algebra), space (geometry), and calculus, change (mathematical analysis, analysis). It ...

time series
price index is calculated relative to a base or reference date. P_0 is the value of the index at the base date. For example, if the base date is (the end of) 1992, P_0 is the value of the index at (the end of) 1992. The price index is typically normalized to start at 100 at the base date, so P_0 is set to 100. The length of time between each value of t and the next one, is normally constant regular time interval, such as a calendar year. P_t is the value of the price index at time t after the base date. P_t equals 100 times the value of the commodity bundle at time t, divided by the value of the commodity bundle at the base date. If the price of the commodity bundle has increased by one percent over the first period after the base date, then ''P''1 = 101. The inflation rate i_t between time t-1 and time t is the change in the price index divided by the price index value at time t-1: i_t = \frac := \frac - 1 expressed as a percentage.

Real value

The nominal value of a commodity bundle tends to change over time. In contrast, by definition, the real value of the commodity bundle in aggregate remains the same over time. The real values of individual goods or commodities may rise or fall against each other, in relative terms, but a representative commodity bundle as a whole retains its real value as a constant from one period to the next. Real values can for example be expressed in constant 1992 dollars, with the price level fixed 100 at the base date. The price index is applied to adjust the nominal value Q of a quantity, such as wages or total production, to obtain its real value. The real value is the value expressed in terms of
purchasing power Purchasing power is the amount of goods and services that can be purchased with a unit of currency A currency, "in circulation", from la, currens, -entis, literally meaning "running" or "traversing" in the most specific sense is money Im ...
in the base year. The index price divided by its base-year value P_t / P_0 gives the growth factor of the price index. Real values can be found by dividing the nominal value by the growth factor of a price index. Using the price index growth factor as a divisor for converting a nominal value into a real value, the real value at time ''t'' relative to the base date is: :\frac

Real growth rate

The real growth rate r_t is the change in a nominal quantity Q_t in real terms since the previous date t-1. It measures by how much the buying power of the quantity has changed over a single period. :r_t = \frac / \frac - 1 ::= \frac - 1 ::= \frac / \frac - 1 ::= \frac - 1 where g_t is the nominal growth rate of Q_t, and i_t is the inflation rate. :1 + r_t = \frac For values of i_t between −1 and 1 (i.e. ±100 percent), we have the
Taylor series In , the Taylor series of a is an of terms that are expressed in terms of the function's s at a single point. For most common functions, the function and the sum of its Taylor series are equal near this point. Taylor's series are named after ...
:(1 + i_t)^ = 1 - i_t + i_t^2 - i_t^3 + ... so :1 + r_t = (1 + g_t)(1 - i_t + i_t^2 - i_t^3 + ...) :::= 1 + g_t - i_t - g_t i_t + i_t^2 + \text Hence as a first-order (''i.e.'' linear) approximation, :r_t = g_t - i_t

Real wages and real gross domestic products

The bundle of goods used to measure the
Consumer Price Index#REDIRECT consumer price index A consumer price index measures changes in the price level of a weighted average market basket of Goods, consumer goods and Services marketing, services purchased by households. A CPI is a statistical estimate con ...
(CPI) is applicable to consumers. So for wage earners as consumers, an appropriate way to measure real wages (the buying power of wages) is to divide the nominal wage (after-tax) by the growth factor in the CPI.
Gross domestic product Gross domestic product (GDP) is a monetary measure of the market value of all the final goods and services produced in a specific time period. GDP (nominal) per capita does not, however, reflect differences in the cost of living __NOTOC__ ...
(GDP) is a measure of aggregate output. Nominal GDP in a particular period reflects prices that were current at the time, whereas real GDP compensates for inflation. Price indices and the U.S.
National Income and Product Accounts The national income and product accounts (NIPA) are part of the national accounts of the United States. They are produced by the Bureau of Economic Analysis of the Department of Commerce. They are one of the main sources of data on general econo ...
are constructed from bundles of commodities and their respective prices. In the case of GDP, a suitable price index is th
GDP price index.
In the U.S. National Income and Product Accounts, nominal GDP is called ''GDP in current dollars'' (that is, in prices current for each designated year), and real GDP is called ''GDP in ase-yeardollars'' (that is, in dollars that can
purchase Purchasing is the process a business or organization uses to acquire Good (economics), goods or Service (economics), services to accomplish its goals. Although there are several organizations that attempt to set standards in the purchasing proces ...

the same quantity of commodities as in the base year).


Real interest rates

As was shown in the section above on the real growth rate, :1 + r_t = \frac where :r_t is the rate of increase of a quantity in real terms, :g_t is the rate of increase of the same quantity in nominal terms, and :i_t is the rate of inflation, and as a first-order approximation, :r_t = g_t - i_t. In the case where the growing quantity is a
financial asset A financial asset is a non-physical asset whose value is derived from a contractual claim, such as deposit (finance), bank deposits, bond (finance), bonds, and participations in companies' share capital. Financial assets are usually more market liq ...
, g_t is a
nominal interest rateIn finance and economics, the nominal interest rate or nominal rate of interest is either of two distinct things: # the rate of interest In finance Finance is the study of financial institutions, financial markets and how they operate within ...
and r_t is the corresponding
real interest rate The real interest rate is the rate of interest an investor, saver or lender receives (or expects to receive) after allowing for inflation. It can be described more formally by the Fisher equation In financial mathematicsMathematical finance, also ...
; the first-order approximation r_t = g_t - i_t is known as the
Fisher equation In financial mathematicsMathematical finance, also known as quantitative finance and financial mathematics, is a field of applied mathematics, concerned with mathematical modeling of financial markets. Generally, mathematical finance will derive a ...
. Looking back into the past, the Ex post#ex post, ''ex post'' real interest rate is approximately the historical nominal interest rate minus inflation. Looking forward into the future, the expected real interest rate is approximately the nominal interest rate minus the expected inflation rate.

Cross-sectional comparison

Not only time-series data, as above, but also cross-section data which depends on prices which may vary geographically for example, can be adjusted in a similar way. For example, the total value of a good produced in a region of a country depends on both the amount and the price. To compare the output of different regions, the nominal output in a region can be adjusted by repricing the goods at common or average prices.

See also

*Aggregation problem *Classical dichotomy *Constant Item Purchasing Power Accounting *Cost-of-living index *Deflation *Financial repression *
Fisher equation In financial mathematicsMathematical finance, also known as quantitative finance and financial mathematics, is a field of applied mathematics, concerned with mathematical modeling of financial markets. Generally, mathematical finance will derive a ...
*Index (economics) *Inflation *Inflation accounting *Inflation hedge *Interest *Money illusion *National accounts *Neutrality of money *Numéraire *Real interest rate *Real prices and ideal prices *Template:Inflation – for price conversions in Wikipedia articles



* * (The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith's early distinction vindicated) * *

External links

DataBasics: Deflating Nominal Values to Real Values
from Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas
CPI Inflation Calculator
from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics {{economics Inflation Valuation (finance)