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Summary:

Market analysts are spying on us from above. UBS Investment Research has started incorporating analysis of satellite images of the parking lots of big-box retailers into its earnings estimates, forecasting an uptick in sales based on parking lot traffic where a drop was previously expected.

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Satellite images aren’t just useful for protecting national security, looking up online directions and checking out your roof on Google Earth anymore. Now market analysts are spying on us from above. UBS Investment Research has started incorporating analysis of satellite images of the parking lots of big-box retailers into its earnings estimates, reports CNBC, forecasting an uptick in sales based on parking lot traffic where a drop was previously expected.

It turns out that rather than a 1 percent decline in sales for Walmart in the second quarter compared to year ago, relatively full parking lots indicate a 0.7 percent gain in sales for the quarter.

Satellite picture of a Walmart parking lot

UBS bought its satellite data and analysis from a startup called Remote Sensing Metrics, which built a model for how customer flow presages quarterly earnings. Remote Sensing found that Walmart parking lot traffic was up 4 percent in June from a year ago, probably because of an aggressive “rollback” marketing campaign.

Remote Sensing also determined that earlier this year, Walmart stores were attracting growth in areas where there was more unemployment, while Target stores were doing the opposite. Now both retailers are seeing growth, which the firm thinks bodes well for the economy. It also found that Lowe’s is outpacing Home Depot in summer shoppers.

Lanworth, another research company mentioned in the CNBC report, analyzes commodity crop production using infrared and microwave images. Last year, it detected a drop in corn production months months before the USDA, and it recently warned that 2010 Russian wheat production is far below reported levels.

Just imagine if such satellite image analysis were crowdsourced on a service like Amazon Mechanical Turk. We could probably figure out just about everything that’s happening in the world at any time. Privacy lovers might want to avoid satellite detection by staying indoors and buying from Walmart.com where they can’t be tracked. Oh wait — that won’t work either.

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  1. Now that is technology properly or improperly used. This could well be being used by the government to spy on businesses where they suspect is not declaring their true income. Be warned tax evaders.

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  2. [...] reported by CNBC (and I read a similar post by Liz Gannes on GigaOM), investment firms are starting to use data from satellites to predict earnings for large companies [...]

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  3. What a wonderful example of “actions speak louder than words.”

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  4. on Wal*Mart’s China web page!

    “Wal-Mart China persists in local procurement which provides more job opportunities, supports local manufacture industry and promotes local economy. So far, 95% of merchandising sold at Wal-Mart China store are local products by which Wal-Mart has established business relations with nearly 20,000 suppliers. At Wal-Mart, we treat suppliers as partners and would like to develop with them. In 2008 Wal-Mart won the Supplier Satisfaction published by Business Information of Shanghai for five consecutive years.”

    5% foreign in China…

    That doesn’t support American exports and American jobs.

    Remember what Lance Winslow wrote in that article “The Flow of Trade in a Global Economy”….

    “Now let us look at Wal-Mart again; you buy a product there, 6% goes to the employees, 10-18% is profit to the company, 25% goes to other costs and 50% goes to re-stock or the cost of goods sold. Of the 50% about 20-25% goes to China, a guess, but you get the point. Now then, how long will it take at 433 Billion dollars at year for China to have all of our money, leaving no money flow for us to circulate? At a 17 Trillion dollar economy less than 40-years minus the 1/6 they buy from us. Some say that if we keep putting money into our economy, it would take forever, but if we do not then eventually all the money flow will go. If China buys our debt then eventually they own us, no need to worry about a war, they are buying America, due in part to our own mismanaged trade, so whose fault is that? Not necessarily China, as they are doing what’s in the best interests, and we should make sure that trade is not only free, but fair too.”

    Think for a moment about George Washington….yes the man that is on the US dollar bill….How do you think George feels being sent overseas in return for all that foreign so-call cheap items and being left in a foreign bank because the American worker doesn’t make anything for the foreigners to buy. Cheap items didn’t make this great union of 50 states the greatest place on the face of this Earth…..the American worker (union and non-union) did.

    You can’t have a strong country without having a strong currency and you can’t have a strong currency unless you keep it floating around within your 50 states. This is why the store with the star in the name puts 95% China made items in their stores in China….to keep their “yuan” in their country helping the nice people there. And with only 5% left for all the other 182 country’s that make stuff including the United States of America….that doesn’t produce very many jobs outside of China.

    Being an old person myself and knowing how it was back in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s in this union of 50 states….I look at George each time I pull him out of my billfold and make a promise to send him out for items made in America so after floating around helping each hand he touches just maybe one day he will shake mine again.

    Fifteen cargo ships pollute as much as 760 million automobiles.

    $9 billion a year in hidden taxes to all American taxpayers to clean fish from ballast tanks of ships…

    think about all those facts the next time you pull that George out of your pocket….

    Retail makes NOTHING…

    Governments only make MORE DEBT…

    It’s time for less of those two and for America to get back to what it does best….MAKE STUFF..

    cause George Washington on that dollar can’t help anyone in the United States of America if he is being held in a foreign hand.

    Made In America is the only way out of this mess cause foreign made put US here.

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