MEASURING DIGITAL ACTIVITIES IN THE AUSTRALIAN ECONOMY
2. ABS APPLICATION OF THE BEA APPROACH
In the production approach, digital activity value added is the gross output of the selected digital products less the value of products consumed in production. For simplicity, the measurement focused on products that were “primarily digital” in nature, and separately identifiable in the supply-use tables.
The ABS acknowledges that this digital activity measurement is limited in scope. For example, peer-to-peer transactions and emerging digitalised products (such as UBER transport services, financial services and “smart” household electronic goods) are not included in the estimates. While the production of these digitalised products are embedded in the supply-use source data under existing product classifications, they are not separately identified and it would be resource intensive to unembed. Also, digital trade is not visible from the production approach. Exports and imports through digital networks can be estimated with components of final demand1. Hence, the measurement in this paper provides “lower-bound” insights into digital activities in Australia for analytical and policy purposes.
The Australian preliminary experimental estimates of digital activities were estimated using ABS supply-use data (ABS Cat. no. 5217.0). The following steps were undertaken:
3. Inputs and outputs of digital activities estimated.
Step 1: Selecting the Digital Products
To represent each of the three broad digital activities (digital enabling infrastructure, digital media and e-commerce), the SUPCs were selected in alignment with Barefoot et al (2018) and shown in Table 1. Infrastructure was divided into Hardware, Software, Support Services and Telecommunications. E-commerce consisted of Wholesale and Retail services. Within some of the selected SUPCs, only the listed Input-Output Product Classifications (IOPC) were relevant to the current measurement of digital activities2.
Table 1: Selected Supply-Use and Input-output Products by Digital Activity
Step 2: Identifying the Industry Sources
J Information, Media and Telecommunications;
M Professional, Scientific and Technical Services;
F Wholesale Trade; and
G Retail Trade.
Step 3: Estimating the Inputs and Outputs of the Digital Activities
Gross output, intermediate consumption and value added of the digital activities were estimated with established assumptions and simple modelling. The estimation was firstly in current price, followed by volume and then contribution to total digital and economic growth.
Current Price Estimation
The current price estimation of the digital activities involved modelling the relevant digital products; compiling the gross output, intermediate consumption and value added of the digital activities within the source SUICs; and aggregating the estimated inputs and outputs across the industries.
Within some of the selected SUPCs, only certain components were relevant to the conceptual measurement of digital activities. To ensure consistency within the established scope, the supply-use gross output of such components were modelled using other data sources. The underlying model by digital product (and caveats in the estimated Wholesale E-commerce outputs) are highlighted in Appendix A.
Next, the digital activities were estimated in each of the identified primary and secondary industries. In a particular SUIC, digital gross output was estimated as the sum of the selected and modelled products. Due to the lack of information on the production processes, the industry production function for the digital products was assumed to be identical to the “non-digital” counterpart. Hence, the associated digital value added was estimated as the total value added weighted by the share of the estimated digital output in total output. Total intermediate consumption for the production of the digital products was calculated as the difference between the digital gross output and digital value added, which was then proportionately split amongst SUPCs.
Gross output, intermediate consumption and value added by digital activity were estimated as the sum of the relevant products across the source SUICs.
In volume terms, value added by digital activity was estimated with double deflation on a chain volume basis.
A chain volume measure shows change in quantity over time by holding the price constant at a reference year. The derivation of a chain volume measure separates the annual price effect from quantity, through dividing the current price measure by the corresponding price movement – the implicit price deflator. This deflation process yields a quantity estimate at constant prices3.
As prices for value added were unavailable, constant price value added by digital activity was estimated as the difference between the total digital output in constant prices and the total intermediate consumption in constant prices (double deflation). To derive the constant price digital output and intermediate consumption, each of the underlying products were deflated with the corresponding price movement.
Next, the volume movement of digital activity value added was estimated by accounting for the annual growth over time. The annual volume growth of the digital value added was calculated as the ratio of the constant price measure to the current price measure in the previous period. Then, the volume growth of the digital value added over time (the chain volume index) was derived as the cumulative multiplication (or ‘chaining’) of the annual volume movement across the time series.
The chain volume digital activity value added was estimated by converting the chain volume index into the dollar value of a selected reference year.
Further information on the chain volume calculations is provided in Appendix B.
Double deflation and the estimation of chain volume value added are demonstrated with a numerical example in Appendix C.
Estimating Aggregate Growth and Contribution to Growth
The aggregate digital activity value added growth was defined as the Laspeyres aggregation (ABS cat.no. 5206.0 feature article, 2012) of the underlying digital activities, where the activity contribution was the annual value added volume growth weighted by the corresponding lagged share in the total digital activity value added.
The total economy value added growth was estimated as the Laspeyres aggregation of all SUICs.
The preliminary estimates of Australian digital activities, from 2011-12 to 2016-17, are summarised in this section.
Figure 1: Digital Activity Value Added ($m) and Share in Aggregate Value Added (%), from 2011-12 to 2016-17, Current Prices
In recent years, domestic production of the selected digital products had grown relative to the total Australian economy, from 5.4% ($75.6 billion) of aggregate value added in 2011-12 to 5.7% ($93.5 billion) in 2016-17 (Figure 1). The relative size (and trend) of digital activities in Australia has been broadly similar to, albeit slightly less than, that seen in the U.S. (6.5% in 2016), as published in Barefoot et al (2018).
Figure 2: Average Division Share in Aggregate Value Added (%), Digital Activities Embedded, from 2011-12 to 2016-17, Current Prices
From a context perspective, noting the industries shown in Figure 2 include digital activities, the selected digital activities represented higher aggregate value added than 12 industry divisions, but were behind traditional drivers such as Finance, Construction, Health and Mining (Figure 2)4.
Figure 3: Annual Current Price Value Added Growth (%), Digital Activities vs. Total Economy, from 2012-13 to 2016-17
Figure 4: Annual Value Added Volume Growth (%), Digital Activities vs. Total Economy, from 2012-13 to 2016-17
In both current price and volume terms, apart from current price growth in 2016-17, growth in the digital activities significantly outpaced growth in total production (Figures 3 and 4). The rapid expansion in digital activities was driven by strong demand for more advanced telecommunication and support services, and further digitalisation of wholesale trade in the Australian economy.
Figure 5: Digital Activity Contribution to Aggregate Value Added Growth (%), from 2012-13 to 2016-17, Volumes
From 2012-13 to 2016-17, digital activities accounted for almost one sixth of the total economic growth in Australia (0.4% of the total 2.6%), due to the rapid growth proportional to the digital activities’ moderate size (Figure 5). The level contribution of the digital activities in Australia was similar to the counterpart in the U.S. (0.4% in 2016), as published in Barefoot et al (2018).
The figures hereafter explore the drivers of the digital activity value added.
Figure 6: Average Share in Total Digital Activity Value Added (%), from 2011-12 to 2016-17, Current Prices
Within the digital activities, production was dominated by Support Services, Telecommunications and Wholesale E-commerce (Figure 6). Support Services and Telecommunications were driven by strong demand for high speed and volume internet services, and increased commercial adoption of new technologies (such as Cloud computing and storage, remote data access and multi-platform networking) under the ongoing rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN). Wholesale E-commerce was relatively significant due to intensified digitalisation, and a high commercial reliance on imported necessities in response to the limited domestic supply of manufactured goods (Table 8, Appendix D). In contrast, Hardware and Retail E-commerce were overshadowed by low-cost imported computer products (Lo, 2017) and traditional retail sales (National Australia Bank Online Retail Sales Index or NORSI) January 2010 – January 2012 and June 2017), respectively.
Figure 7: Average Annual Value Added Growth by Digital Activity (%), from 2012-13 to 2016-17, Volumes
Looking at volume, the estimated value added growth in most of the digital activities significantly outpaced that in the total Australian economy (Figure 7). Hardware experienced the highest growth, followed by Retail E-commerce, Wholesale E-commerce and Telecommunications. Hardware was driven by depreciation in the Australian dollar, efficiency improvements and increased focus on local customisation and support for businesses and governments (Lo, 2017). Retail E-commerce thrived on the affordability and convenience of online shopping, and the integration of “Click and Collect” and physical retail presence. The growth in Wholesale E-commerce primarily reflects significant digitalisation within the Wholesale Trade division. In response to strong downward pressure on profits5, wholesalers could cut costs by replacing labour with advanced automated systems for order, inventory and customer service management6. Digital Media experienced the lowest growth due an ongoing shift in consumer viewing trend, from free-to-air digital TV and radio to on-demand internet streaming services.
Figure 8: Contribution to Digital Activity Value Added Growth (%), from 2012-13 to 2016-17, Volumes
Overall, the digital activity value added grew by 7.5% per annum primarily due to the production in Telecommunications (2.7%) and Support Services (2.4%); and the intensified digitalisation of Wholesale Trade (1.3%) (Figure 8). The contribution from Hardware and Retail E-commerce was minor, as the high value added growth rate was offset by the relatively small production.
In summary, information and communication technologies were a growing engine of the Australian economy. Characterised by rapid growth and relatively significant production, telecommunication and support services were significant direct contributors to the aggregate digital activities and economic growth. Further, technological innovation and increased commercial adoption of new ICT amongst producers enables vital productivity gains. For example, the intensified automation within Wholesale Trade significantly reduced labour costs and, in turn, allowed wholesalers to confront declining profitability. Maintaining competitive supply channels through Wholesale E-commerce will be important as Australia continues to transition towards a services economy.
The results also indicate that Retail E-commerce is currently a relatively minor contributor to the Australian digital activities and aggregate economy. However, the activity has demonstrated much potential for future growth.
Rapid progress in digitalisation has increased the demand for statistical insights into digital activities in the Australian economy. In response, the ABS has measured selected domestic digital activities under the BEA approach. Adopting the BEA approach enables Australia to engage in policy debate and international comparisons of digital activities in a timely and responsive manner.
While representing a relatively small share of total Australian production (behind traditional economic drivers such as Mining, Finance, Health and Construction), the selected digital activities contributed significantly to the aggregate economic growth in recent years. In current price and volume terms, the selected digital activities grew rapidly, primarily due to strong demand for more advanced telecommunications and support services. The results also highlight the economic importance of Wholesale E-commerce in Australia’s ongoing economic structural change.
The ABS acknowledges the scope limitations in the current approach to measuring digital activities in the Australian economy. Potential areas for future research and development include:
The ABS will consider any future research in this area in conjunction with broader organisational forward work program priorities.
Ahmad, N. and Ribarsky, J. 2018, 'Towards a Framework for Measuring the Digital Economy'. Prepared for the 16th Conference of the International Association of Official Statisticians (IAOS), OECD Headquarters, Paris, France, 19-21 September 2018.
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2012, 'Feature article: Forthcoming Changes to the Calculation of Contributions to Growth in the National Accounts', in Australian National Accounts: National Income, Expenditure and Product, Jun 2012, cat. no. 5206.0, ABS, Canberra.
ABS 2018, Australian National Accounts: Supply Use Tables, 2016-17, cat. no. 5217.0, ABS, Canberra.
ABS 2018, Retail Trade, Australia, Jul 2018, cat. no. 8501.0, ABS, Canberra.
Barefoot, K., Curtis, D., Jolliff, W.A., Nicholson, J.R. & R. Omohundro 2018, 'Defining and Measuring the Digital Economy', Working Paper, BEA (Bureau of Economic Analysis), Washington, D.C..
Lo, B. 2017, Computer and Electronic Office Equipment Manufacturing (C2421) - Australia. IBISWorld Industry Report, Melbourne.
Millar, J. & H. Grant 2017, 'Valuing New Zealand's Digital Economy', Paper presented to Working Party on National Accounts, OECD Conference Centre (November), Statistics New Zealand, Wellington.
NAB (National Australia Bank) Online Retail Sales Index, Quarterly Series, NAB, Melbourne.
Statistics Canada 2018, Results from the Digital Economy Survey, July 2017 to June 2018, cat. no. 11-627-M. Infographics, Stats Canada, Ottawa.
Watson, T. 2018, 'Digital Economy Measurement and Digital Policy', G20 and Economic Policy Branch, Economic Division, PM&C (Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet of Australia), Canberra.
Appendix A highlights the underlying model by digital product, and provides caveats in the current modelled Wholesale E-commerce activities.
To ensure consistency within the established scope, the supply-use industry output of certain digital elements is modelled with existing data sources (Table 2). Infrastructure, ophthalmic instruments, cameras, optical fibres, software copyright leasing, metal wires and electronic equipment repair were estimated using the individual product’s share in the corresponding SUPC from the ABS Input-output table. In wholesale and retail trade activities, however, E-commerce is not well represented by the underlying IOPCs. Hence, retail E-commerce margin and trade services were estimated using the share of Australian online retail sales (NORSI) in the total Australian retail turnover (ABS Cat. no. 8501.0). Wholesale E-commerce margin and trade services were based on the share of internet income (unpublished experimental data from the ABS Business Characteristics Survey (BCS)) in the total sales of goods not produced (Economic Activity Survey) for the Wholesale Trade division. For simplicity, the estimated shares of E-commerce activity were assumed to be identical across all SUICs.
The significance of E-commerce relative to total wholesale trade may be overestimated due to the scope and limitations of the estimated internet income. Internet income was derived from the reported proportion of online sales in business income from the BCS. The BCS definition of online sales accounts for all internet business-to-business (from a producer to a wholesaler, and from a wholesaler to a retailer etc.) and business-to-consumer transactions on any particular good. Moreover, the current estimated internet income cannot be traced to non-wholesale business activities and the underlying goods traded between businesses.
Table 2: Data Sources for Modelling the Relevant Digital Products
Appendix B formulaically shows the final stages in the estimation of the chain volume digital activity value added.
Appendix C numerically demonstrates double deflation and the estimation of chain volume value added.
To remove the price effect from quantity of value added, the current price gross output and intermediate consumption were separately deflated at each individual product (Table 4). The double deflation involved dividing the current price measure by the corresponding IPD. The industry’s value added at constant prices was estimated as the difference between the total deflated gross output and the total deflated intermediate consumption.
The chain volume value added shows change in quantity by accounting for the annual growth rate over time. For a particular year, the annual value added volume growth was calculated as the ratio of the industry’s constant price value added to the industry’s current price value added in the previous year (Table 5). The quantity of value added has not grown at the beginning of the time series (Year 1).
Table 5: The Industry’s Annual Value Added Growth Rate
The change in quantity of the industry value added over time was estimated as the cumulative product (or “chaining”) of the annual volume growth rate (equation 1). The estimated chain volume index is shown in Table 6.
Table 6: The Chain Volume Index of Value Added
For example, setting Year 1 as the reference year, the chain volume index of value added from Year 1 to Year 4 () is calculated as:
The chain volume measure of value added was estimated by converting the chain volume index into the dollar value of the selected reference year (Year 1) (equation 2). The estimated chain volume measure is shown in Table 7.
Table 7: Estimating the Chain Volume Value Added
As an example, the chain volume value added in Year 4 () is calculated as:
Appendix D summarises the common elements in the top 15 imported and wholesale margin products, from 2011-12 to 2016-17 (Table 8). The imports, wholesale margin and Australian production by product were estimated as the current price summation across the established timeframe.
As indicated by the high ratios of imports to Australian production, the main products sold for commercial purposes were significantly sourced from abroad. The high levels of import were consistent with the slowing domestic sources of manufactured goods under Australia’s ongoing structural change.
Table 8 – The Common Elements in the Top 15 Imported and Wholesale Margin Products, 2011-12 to 2016-17, Current Prices
1 The ABS is separately investigating the estimation of imported digital products.
2 The IOPC represents a detailed decomposition of the SUPC.
3. In this paper, a constant price measure is referred to as the current quantity valued at the corresponding price in the previous period (Pt-1Qt).
4. Note that the production of the digital products has not been removed from the existing industries for which it is partially embedded. Therefore, the shares add to more than 100% of aggregate value added.
5. Profitability in wholesale trade activities sharply diminished in recent years due to the depreciation of the Australian dollar, decrease in oil prices and intensified competition from overseas.
6. One example of such systems is the radio-frequency identification (RFID).
7. Unpublished experimental internet income for the Wholesale Trade division.
8. Includes minor rounding error.
9. The wholesale margin by SUPC is derived with an experimental product allocation from the ABS Retail Industry and Wholesale Industry surveys (RIS/WIS). Hence, ranking the estimate by size would reasonably indicate the main underlying products in wholesale trade.
10. The grand total estimate only includes goods that attract wholesale margin in the source supply-use table.