GDP data is taken as a sign for investors and some consumers. When news comes out that the economy has nosedived, few people stop to ask if the reports are accurate. They just start to worry, which can in itself deter investment and put the brakes on growth. That’s why we expect the statistical authorities to take extreme care to ensure the data are reliable.

In practice, however, since 2015 SA’s quarterly — but not annual — GDP data has gone haywire. The problem is a proudly new SA tradition of economic downturns reported in nearly every first quarter, followed as regularly by recovery in the rest of the year. This kind of quarterly cycle should be eliminated by the seasonal adjustment process; its emergence suggests that process needs urgent review.

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