What the terrible GDP numbers mean for the economy : Planet Money : The Indicator from Planet Money This quarter's Gross Domestic Product numbers could be the worst on record. But what do they mean, exactly?

GDP -32.9%???!!!

GDP -32.9%???!!!

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TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images
People look at a shopfront displaying a mini exhibition by secretive British artist, Banksy with the sign 'Gross Domestic Product' in Croydon, south London (TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

The Bureau of Economic Analysis released second quarter gross domestic product data today. The number shows how much the economy has grown in a given quarter. And in the second quarter, the BEA says, the American economy grew at an annualized rate of...wait for it...negative 32.9%.

Did the economy really shrink by a third last quarter? Actually no. It turns out the way we report GDP in the US can skew our impressions of the economy's growth trajectory. It can make it look great when things are going well, but when things are going badly, as they are now, it makes things look really bad.

Today we stick a finger into that number, to explain what it really means, and how much a gauge of the future of the economy it represents.

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