While many people are familiar with the United States Census every 10 years as mandated by the Constitution, over 100 different surveys are conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau each year. SBB Research Group summarizes vital information from Census.gov about these lesser-known—but significant—surveys in this educational series.
What is the Annual Capital Expenditures Survey?
The survey provides detailed information on nonfarm enterprises’ capital investment in domestic structures and equipment. Data are published for 132 industries and account for new structures and equipment and other new depreciable assets. ACES samples 50,000 companies with one or more employees, with 20,000 of the companies selected with certainty. Larger companies are chosen from the US Census Business Register each year, with all companies with at least 500 paid employees included in the survey. Smaller companies are stratified by industry and payroll size and then selected randomly by strata.
The 2019 survey indicated that “US nonfarm employer businesses invested $1,807.8 billion in new and used structures and equipment, increasing $108.7 billion (6.4 percent) from the revised 2018 level.” Sixty percent was invested in equipment and 40 percent in new and used structures. Ten industries accounted for 42 percent of the total spending in 2019:
How are These Data Used?
ACES is the only source for comprehensive estimates of annual US capital expenditures and is used to calculate current economic indicators of business investments and the quarterly gross domestic product calculations. Industry analysts, private companies, educators, and students use the data for market analysis, economic forecasting, identifying business opportunities, and developing strategic plans. In addition, analysts conduct impact evaluations on past and current economic performance, produce economic forecasts, and use the information to define tax policy as well as domestic and international trade policy.
Several government agencies use ACES data to monitor and forecast capital expenditures. For example, the Federal Reserve and the Bureau of Economic Analysis refine valuation estimates of investment in structures and equipment for monetary and fiscal policy forecasts. In addition, the Bureau of Labor Statistics uses the data to improve estimates of capital stock, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services use the data to monitor and evaluate investments in the healthcare industry. Finally, the Treasury Department uses the data to improve the calculation of depreciation of industrial factories and equipment.
The ACES data are critical to the evaluation of productivity growth, assessment of changes in industrial capacity, the measurement of overall economic performance, and the ability of U.S. businesses to compete with foreign companies.