The US retail sales have shown sustained strength on their path to recovery. The retail sales have continued to increase the pace of growth for the past few months. Retail sales in the US in November 2009 were 1.3% than the observed in November 2008. Despite the increase, the retail sales volume is still far less than the observed in late 2007.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Monday, December 7, 2009
From Statistics Canada:
The value of building permits rose 18.0% in October to $6.1 billion. The increase was mainly a result of gains in the value of non-residential permits and in construction intentions for single-family dwellings.
In the residential sector, the value of permits was up for a third consecutive month. Residential construction intentions climbed 3.8% to $3.4 billion. Ontario and Quebec accounted for much of the growth seen at the national level.
In the non-residential sector, municipalities issued permits worth $2.7 billion, up 42.4% following a 9.2% decline in September. All three components of non-residential construction permits increased in October.
The total value of building permits increased in six provinces, led by Alberta and Ontario.
Municipalities issued building permits worth $48.3 billion between January and October, 20.8% less than in the same period in 2008.
Non-residential sector: Gains in every component
Intentions increased in every component of the non-residential sector in October.
In the industrial component, the value of building permits doubled to $709 million. This was the third consecutive monthly increase, fuelled by higher construction intentions in Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.
After four monthly consecutive declines, the value of institutional building permits increased 50.9% to $904 million. The gain was largely attributable to educational institution projects in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec and British Columbia. Ontario had an increase in the value of permits for medical buildings.
Friday, December 4, 2009
The latest figures for the payroll in Canada report an additional 79,000 employed in November. Compared to October 2009, the unemployment rate has declined slightly by .1% to 8.5%.
However, compared to the peak employment figures in October 2008, the number of employed was still 1.9% lower in November 2009.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
The brand appeal of iPhone suggests that the apple of Apple’s eye is a favourite of wealthier nations. A map of iPhone’s popularity suggests that it is most popular in North America, Europe, and other high-income countries.
Popularity of iPhone in a global context
Nokia, on the other hand, is more popular in the developing countries. Could the difference be explained by price? Since Nokia cell phones are much cheaper than the iPhone, Nokia is more affordable for the users in developing countries. Is iPhone a luxury item in the low-income countries?
Interest in Nokia mapped over globe
This Christmas shopping season e-commerce has returned with a vengeance. The brick and mortar retail sales have shown a slight increase in the recent past (at 1%), which led some analysts to call the Black Friday, the traditional start of the Christmas shopping rush, “Bleak Friday”. On the other hand, the Internet savvy consumers have been busy buying goods on the net.
According to Forrester, online sales in the United States grew by 13% in 2008 for a total of $141 billion. Online sales are expected to grow by another 11% in 2009. This bodes well for retailers as well as for the express delivery service industry comprising of FedEx, UPS, Purolator, and thousands of other small sized courtiers.
The Economist magazine has recently reported that Internet based retail sales have recently jumped to 6% of all retail sales in the United States. It is expected that by 2013 online sales will account for as high as 8% of all retail sales. In 2008 alone, online sales totalled $60 billion in Europe and $40 billion in Asia.
The shopping channel in Canada is perhaps the leader in online retailing with almost 35% of total retail sales resulting from online orders. The graph below presents daily visits to the shopping channels website. Even though there has been a decline in the visits from a high of 20,000 in January 2009 to approximately 11,000 visits in October 2009, online sales continue to be important for the shopping channel where one in three sales are resulting from customers placing orders through the Internet.
Friday, November 27, 2009
The task of shipping millions of parcels each day is no small feat. Amazon.com has the unique distinctions of shipping millions of parcels during the Christmas shopping season. In UK, the peak was observed at 1.4 million shipments on December 08. The Financial Times carries the details:
At its peak last year, Amazon’s UK operations dispatched 1m items on one day. Orders peaked at 1.4m items on Monday, December 8. Amazon expects another “cyber Monday” peak this December.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
The Globe and Mail recently highlighted a study by Statistics Canada that shows that recent immigrants earned less than equally qualified locals doing the same job. However, the study indicated that those immigrants who have spent over 10 years in Canada have been able to narrow the earnings gap. The detailed study could be downloaded by clicking HERE.
I have leafed through the study and discovered that the difference in wage is not corrected for other mitigating factors. The differences have not been tested statistically and the wage differences are not determined in a regression-type model. This is a serious limitation of the study because it does not allow us the ceteris paribus inferences.
For instance, the study has found a $2.30 difference in the hourly wage between immigrants and non-immigrants. However, if one were to control for factors other than education, which are instrumental in determining a person's wage, i.e. personal drive, communication abilities, familiarity with the industry and working culture, productivity, would one have observed the same wage difference as observed in tabulations reported in the study?
Irrespective of the abovementioned caveats, the study tabulates wage differences and offers interesting comparisons, and is of great value for a debate on this critical issue.
Statistics Canada reported the following:
In 2008, the average hourly wage of a Canadian-born employee in the core working-age group of 25 to 54 was $23.72, compared with $21.44 for an immigrant worker, a difference of $2.28 an hour. A gap existed regardless of when the immigrants landed. However, it was widest, at $5.04, for immigrants who had landed within the previous five years.
The gap in wages between immigrant workers and their Canadian-born counterparts was particularly wide among those with university degrees. Immigrants aged 25 to 54 with a university degree earned $25.31 an hour on average in 2008, about $5 an hour less than their Canadian-born counterparts.
In terms of wage distribution, the proportion of immigrants earning less than $10 an hour in 2008 was 1.8 times higher than for Canadian-born workers. At the other end of the spectrum, a lower share of immigrants earned $35 or more an hour than the Canadian born.
Union coverage among immigrant employees aged 25 to 54 in 2008 was lower than the Canadian born regardless of period of landing. The share of Canadian-born employees with union coverage was nearly 1.5 times higher than for immigrants as a whole, and 1.3 times higher than for immigrants who had been in Canada for over 10 years.
Over-qualification for the job
In 2008, 42% of immigrant workers aged 25 to 54 had a higher level of education for their job than what was normally required, while 28% of Canadian-born workers were similarly over-qualified. Regardless of period of landing, immigrants had higher shares of over-qualification.
More than 1.1 million workers aged 25 to 54 who had a university degree were working in occupations whose normal requirements were at most a college education or apprenticeship. The share of immigrants with degrees who were over-qualified was 1.5 times higher than their Canadian-born counterparts.
Over-qualification was particularly prevalent among university-educated immigrants who landed within five years before the survey. Two-thirds worked in occupations that usually required at most a college education or apprenticeship.
Retail sales in Canada totalled $34.9 billion in September ’09. This amounted to a 1% increase over August 09. The retail sales, excluding the automobile sector, rose by 1.1%, which is the largest gain recorded since January 09.
However, when compared with September 08, retail sales declined by 3.3%. The automotive sector declined by 11% followed by furniture and home furnishings at -7.9% and clothing/accessories stores at –4.7%. Food and beverage stores reported an increase of 3.6% in September 09 against September 08. Pharmacy and personal care stores registered a 5.9% increase in sales for the same time period.
The recent retail sales suggest that Canadians have continued spending on essentials and staples, but have tightened their purse strings on discretionary spending. Thus, pharmacies and grocers are doing well, and furniture stores are struggling in Canada.
Source: Statistics Canada.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
The US home prices have slowed down the increase in home prices observed from June to August 2009 when the home prices appreciated by 1% each month. The increase in home prices was much modest at 0.3% in September 2009. Compare to the peak observed in May 2006, the US home prices in September 2009 were still 9.6% lower than the 2006 record highs.
The recession in 2008, it appears, has hardly made a dent in the nation’s transport energy consumption. While Canada suffered hundreds of thousands of job losses in 2008, the decline in transport energy consumption was merely 3.5%.
At 31% of the final energy demand, the transport sector is the largest user of energy in Canada. Comparatively, the energy use by the industrial sector, second largest user in Canada, fell by 5.9%. This presents an interesting comparison: the decline in the industrial sector energy consumption was almost twice that of the reduction in the transport energy consumption.
Overall energy consumption in Canada in 2008 (7,793 petajoules) declined by 2.1% when compared with 2007 (7,958 petajoules). “One petajoule equals roughly the amount of energy required to operate the Montréal subway system for one year” Statistics Canada.
On a positive environmental note, energy generated using fossil fuels (natural gas, refined petroleum products and coal) declined by 3.6%.
Other salient comparisons include:
“Crude oil production decreases
Canadian companies produced 159 million cubic metres of crude oil in 2008, down 1.2% over 2007. (A cubic metre contains 1 000 litres).
Alberta's oil sands accounted for 70% of total crude oil production in 2008, up from 43% in 2007 and well above the 28% in 2000. The oil sands produced 192 000 cubic metres of oil a day in 2008.
Exports of crude oil, primarily to the United States, increased 1.6% from 2007. According to the United States Energy Information Administration, Canada remained the leading export country to the United States, ahead of both Mexico and Saudi Arabia.
Canadian crude oil now represents 20% of total US demand for imported crude oil. These exports account for more than 65% of all Canadian production. The US Midwest is the most significant market for Western Canadian crude oil.
“Modest decrease in natural gas production
Natural gas production fell 4.9% in 2008. At the same time, natural gas drilling declined by 16%.
Natural gas exports to the United States fell to 3 941 petajoules in 2008, down 4.0% from 4 106 petajoules in 2007. This decrease reflected increases in natural gas production in the United States.”
[Data and maps in this blog are obtained from Statistics Canada]
While those employed in the financial industry are coming up with the spending plans for the bonuses heading their way in December, it appears that not all in Canada share they good fortune. The latest figures for the unemployment insurance suggest that the number of UI recipients suddenly rose by 54,300 (7.1%) in September 2009 after falling for two months preceding September.
The total number of UI recipients in September 2009 reached 818,000, which is 64% higher than the one observed in October 2008. The largest increase in UI recipients was observed in the three largest English speaking provinces namely, Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta.
The number of beneficiaries increased in Ontario by 9% in September 09. The unemployment losses in Ontario are driven by the losses in the manufacturing sector. The increase in Alberta was even more drastic at 25%. It appears that Alberta’s petro economy has run out of steam.
I am wondering how this increase in UI recipients reconciles with the increase in housing prices and volume of trades in the resale housing market in Canada. Where are the funds and confidence coming from if the job market remains volatile.
The spatial distribution of change in UI recipients for urban Ontario and Quebec is presented below where the colour coded map presents the percentage change in number of people receiving Employment Insurance regular benefits, September 2008 to September 2009, by Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs) and Census Agglomerations (CAs).
Rest of Canada presents the following outlook.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Finally, Barbie adorns a burka. The iconic doll that has sold millions over the years, has embraced hijab and burka. From headscarf to an all engulfing burka, the doll is at last Sharia-compliant!
Is it a marketing ploy to attract the middle class in Muslim countries or is it that the age has finally caught up with Barbie, who has turned 50 this year. One can't tell if the burka in the photograph below is covering a pigment-corrected Barbie or her long-time boy friend Ken.
Photograph by Daily Mail
The makers of Barbie, Mattel, is supporting the new Burka Barbie, which is a creation of an Italian designer Eliana Lorena, and was unveiled in Florence, Italy, as part of a charity auction organized by Sotheby’s.
Sotheby’s has promoted the new Barbie as wearing a “traditional Islamic dress.” This amounts to generalization of the highest order. I can see Tarek Fatah (ban the burka campaign) spinning in his chair!
There is no such thing as a traditional Islamic dress for the 500-million plus Muslim women. The Muslim cultures support diversity in languages, cuisines, customs, and yes dresses. One does not see branding of the traditional Islamic food or the traditional Islamic language. Why should then be there such a thing as the traditional Islamic dress. There is certainly no similar artificial construct that applies to men’s clothing.
The notion of a traditional Islamic dress is indeed a false one. Languages, cuisines, and clothes are influenced largely by culture and to an extent by religion. While Islam may dictate what meet is kosher or Halal, it certainly does not mention what spices to use and how long to cook. Similarly Islam suggests modesty in clothing, but does not dictate concealing one’s face.
Hiding behind the notion of a “traditional Islamic dress” is a not so covert attempt by the Arabs to export their cultural norms to non-Arab Muslims. Iranians try to do the same with Shiite Muslims. The bundling of culture and religion is almost akin to two for the price of one: one embraces Islam and gets the Arab culture for free.
The South Asian Muslims living in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh account for 50% of all Muslims. Add to this large number the Indonesians and Malaysians, and we have 75% of the billion-plus Muslims who are culturally non Arab when it comes to language, food, and dress, among others. The non-Arab Muslims have been practicing their Islamic faith and celebrating their non-Arab cultures for centuries. Their dresses, foods, and languages are part of the global cultural heritage. Why should one deny this diversity by throwing a cloak over it?
The burka has served as an instrument to oppress women in many societies, many of those are Muslim. The burka hides the individual’s identity. We don’t recognize other humans by their silhouette, smell or voice. Our faces are indeed our primary ID. We even communicate without words using our eyes, eyebrows, and wrinkles on our forehead. A burka even denies one the right to communicate with a smile.
It is sad to see that the West continues to practice doublespeak: banning burkas in France and showcasing burka-clad Barbie in Italy. One should not let short-term profiteering dictate one’s decisions that may have a long-term adverse impact. The Burka Barbie may register some additional sales in the Muslim countries. However, it will be at a cost of legitimizing women’s exploitation in many societies. This is too big a cost for short-term profits.
I am certainly not advocating a ban on burkas. This amounts to a dictatorship and exploitation of a different kind. I am advocating the need to educate young Muslim men and women about their rights and responsibilities. How can the young Muslim women, which are part of the demographic dividend in the Muslim world where younger cohorts constitute the majority of the population, be enfranchised politically, socially, and economically is a challenge that the Muslims have to embrace now than later.
Also, the decision to wear a burka or otherwise should also be a woman’s decision alone. President Sarkozy of France, Tarek Fatah of ban the burka fame in Canada, and I should not be the dictators.
Photography by Dawn.com
Friday, November 20, 2009
According to Hitwise, an internet market research firm, Expedia Canada is the most popular travel website in Canada followed by WestJet.ca. Surprisingly, Canada’s largest airline, Air Canada, lagged behind in the internet traffic to that of the WestJet.
The traffic up until October 2009, however, paints a different picture. In fact, a comparison of the traffic to the Canadian travel websites reveals that www.expedia.ca is a runner up to the leader www.aircanada.com, which attracts traffic to both www.aircanada.ca and www.aircanada.com. The traffic to www.westjet.com competes at equal footing with www.expedia.ca.
When one takes a closer look at the traffic recorded in the October, one finds a peaking on Wednesdays in the traffic to Air Canada's website:
The traffic data for November 2009 are not available from Google Trends. It will be interesting to compare the data against HitWise once Google updates the database to see why Air Canada has scored poorly with HitWise.
Since West Jet is an Alberta-based airline, it carries more clout and prominence in Alberta. Whereas Air Canada being the national flag carrier, it should have a more Canada-wide appeal where the traffic to its website should be proportionate to provincial populations such that the highest traffic to be generated by the most populace province, i.e., Ontario and the least traffic be generated by the least populace province, Prince Edward Island. This bears out in the following graphics where traffic to the WestJet website is disproportionately high in Alberta.
Notice that though Quebec is the second most populace province, it lags behind the third most populace province, British Columbia. The discrepancy is explained partially by the fact that French is the dominant language spoken in Quebec and Internet usage is different in Quebec than it is in the rest of Canada.
Meanwhile, the cyclical nature of tourism based travel in Canada is presented to the graph below. Canadians travel primarily during the Christmas season and summer. The graph below reveals the rising trend as of late 2006 to mid 2008. However, owing partially to the recession blues, the interest in tourism based travel has been down this year, apart from a peak in July 2009 when the interest in travel improved by 10%, keeping in line with the summer travel interest observed in the previous years.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Foreigners invested $14 billion in Canadian equities in September 2009. On the other hand, Canadians shrank their international portfolios by $5 billion. A detailed breakdown is available from Statistics Canada.
The highest rate of foreign investment was observed in May 2009 when Canadian bonds became the darling of foreign investors. The story in September 2009 was different where the biggest chunk in investment is in the equity markets.
Canadian securities have been in vogue as of late. Even the Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, had expressed faith in the Canadian economy by personally investing in the Canadian Government bonds. He however sold the Canadian government bonds first in July 2008 and later in November 2008.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
The latest figures for consumer prices in September 2009 suggest a sustained upward climb, albeit at a very slow pace. On a year by year basis, the consumer prices in Canada increased by 0.1% in October 2009. The increase in consumer prices excluding energy costs was much higher at 1.4% in October 2009 when compared with the ones in October 2008.
The latest figures also show that the decline in transportation fuel costs has also slowed down in 2009 compared to the steep decline in 2008 (see the figure below). Once the fuel costs stabilize or begin to increase, the rate of increase in consumer prices in Canada will likely increase.
The latest figures from the housing market suggest an early heating up of the market in Canada in the unlikely month of November. The impact is more pronounced in Ontario where housing prices have certainly experienced a sudden increase along with an increase in the number of transactions. The intensity in new home sales in Ontario may partly be driven by the fact that new home purchases would become more expensive by July 2010 when the new harmonized sales tax comes into effect. Currently, new home purchases are subject to the GST and are exempted from provincial sales taxes.
The increase in the price and volume of existing home sales is probably driven by the consumers who have stayed on the sidelines through most of 2008 - 2009, waiting for the economy to improve and the prices to fall down further. Now that the housing prices are no longer falling, consumers are convinced that the market has had hit the rock bottom, and are therefore willing to invest in the housing markets. At the same time, historically low interest and mortgage rates are making initial purchases and mortgage payments extremely affordable.
With the increase in transportation fuel costs and the likely increase in the retail sales volume in the Christmas season, we are likely to see an increase in consumer prices in Canada, which is likely to have a positive impact on the size of our economy.
Canadian manufacturing sales have been lower than expected in September, according to the latest data reported by Haver.com. On a positive note, the inventory/shipment ratio declined to 1.46 in September from 1.63 in January.
At the same time, the real estate market has picked up significantly suggesting that the buyers are coming out of slumber and are taking risks. A rapid recovery in the real estate markets is giving heartburns to some industry watchers who are speculating about another property bubble in the making.
While the economic indicators are presenting a mix bag for Canada, it is safe to say that the worst is over for Canada and if we are not already recovering, we are certainly on the path to recovery in Canada.
Monday, November 16, 2009
The New York Times has recently revealed the face of joblessness in the United States. Whereas the average unemployment rate averaged at 8.6% for all men and women in the period ending September 2009, the unemployment rate for Black men and women was significantly higher at 13.9%. Furthermore, the unemployment rate for Black men averaged at 16.3%, almost twice more than the national average.
The unemployment rate for Black men without high school diplomas averaged at 31% against 18.4% for White men with similar education. Hispanic males without high school diploma fared better than the Black and White men with unemployment rate of 14.6%. Even more alarming is the unemployment rate among Black males aged 15 to 24 years old who lacked a high school diploma. One in two such males was unemployed.
The unemployment rate for White and Hispanic females without high school diploma was the same at 16.3%. However, the unemployment rate for Black females without a high school diploma was significantly higher at 23.4%.
While the U.S. president is lecturing China on human rights and wrongs, it would be prudent to first fix the disparities at his home where the haves and have-nots are divided along the racial lines.
Is the worst finally over in retail for the U.S. markets? The latest figures for retail sales suggests that sales improved in October by 1.4% after a more than expected steep decline of 2.3% in September 2009. The spending on core retail sales, that is after excluding automobile and gasoline sales, has also seen an increase in October.
The automobile sales in the United States have been influenced by the cash for clunkers program. In October 2009, automobile sales jumped 7.4%. However, in the month before auto sales were down by 14.3%. The decline was directly result of forward buying influenced by the cash for clunkers program, which caused an increase in auto sales in August by 10.2%.
It appears that the key subsectors in retail markets including clothing and accessories, general merchandise, Electronics &Appliances, and non-store retailers, have all experienced an increase in sales in October 2009. This certainly bodes well for the Christmas shopping season in 2009.
Not since the seminal work by Meyer, Kain, and Wohl on the Urban Transportation Problem, which was published by the RAND Corporation in 1965, has any one been so insightful as Professor Richard Florida of the University of Toronto. In his blog hosted by the Atlantic, Professor Florida has found the drive alone mode to be negatively correlated with the following demographics, among others, at the State level in the United States:
- High-income households
- University educated individuals
Prof. Florida’s analysis provides us with enough insights to formulate urban transport policy recommendations to discourage drive-alone mode in the United States. These are:
- Make people richer. Get rid of the low-income and working class people because they drive alone and cause congestion.
- Import rich immigrants because indigenous populations drive alone and cause congestion.
- Get rid of the under-educated or send them to the University because highly educated do not drive alone.
- Also, increase course offerings in gay and lesbian studies at the universities.
- Lastly, instead of focussing on the interaction between the built form and travel behaviour, public policy should concentrate on personality traits because those influence travel behaviour more.
- Therefore, as a public policy measure to discourage drive alone mode, one should discourage conscientiousness and advocate carelessness.
On a serious note, I have the following concerns about the professor’s analysis:
- Prof. Florida is trying to find correlations at the State level by mixing urban and non urban commuting in the United States where transit ridership outside of large cities is almost negligible. Therefore any correlation between drive alone mode and demographic traits observed at the State level is almost meaningless.
- Spurious Correlations: Given the strong interaction between the built form (population and employment densities) and the mode of travel, any correlation found between other demographic traits would be influenced by the built form, which acts as a confounding factor.
- A typical example of this error is demonstrated by the positive correlation between drownings in city’s swimming pools and ice cream sales. Obviously, it would be erroneous to conclude that an increase in ice cream sales causes an increase in drownings. In fact, the heat wave (confounding factor) is behind the increase in both drownings and ice cream sales.
Prof. Florida’s blog is reproduced below:
Oct 9 2009
D.C. has the lowest rate - a fact which was not lost on D.C. blogging circles. NY did well too. The worst performers were Alabama, Tennessee, and Ohio, where about eight in 10 workers drive alone - more than double that of D.C.
With the help of my colleague Charlotta Mellander, we took a quick look at some factors that might be associated with this geographic pattern. It's not an exhaustive list: We examined some key economic factors like income and economic output, human capital and the creative class, and psychological ones like happiness, stress, and personality. We removed D.C. from the analysis because it was such an extreme outlier. We did not develop or run any serious multivariate analysis - just simple correlations, or associations, between variables.
Still the findings point to some reasonably clear patterns.
Income and Economic Output: The richer the state, the less likely people were to drive alone. Driving alone was negatively correlated with state income levels (-.46) and output per capital (-.41).
Class and Human Capital: States with higher percentages of college graduates (-.47) and the creative class (-.43) were less likely to have people driving alone. Driving alone was much more likely in states with large working class concentrations (.62).
Professional and Creative Jobs: Driving alone was less likely in states with high concentrations of virtually every type of professional, knowledge-based and creative jobs. But it was least likely in states with large concentrations of artists, designers, and entertainers (-.63), architects and engineers (-.61), scientists (-.56 ), and lawyers (-.55).
Diversity - Immigrants and Gays: Driving alone was less likely in states with high concentrations of immigrants (-.51) and gays (-.41).
Happiness: Happiness research tells us that commuting is one of life's least pleasurable activities. Driving along was negatively associated with state levels of happiness and well-being (-.46) and positively associated with states with higher levels of stress (.29).
Personality: Psychologists identify five main personality types. Driving alone was more likely in states with high levels of three of them: extroverts (.29), conscientiousness (.36), and agreeableness (.44). Interestingly, there was no association between driving alone and the two other types - neurotic and openness to experience, which some might say makes it harder to explain New York.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Canadian merchandise exports have risen by 3.5% in September 2009, according to Statistics Canada. Total exports valued at $30.3 billion and imports at $31.2 billion in September 09. Both imports and exports are showing signs of recovery. If the trends continue, Spring 2010 should see an economic recovery along with better weather in Canada.
In the meanwhile, new car sales have continued its upward swing in Canada where September recorded a 1.2% increase in sales reaching a total of 128,415 units.
Even though there has been no cash for clunkers program in Canada, the new car sales have continued their upward stride since January 2009. This is a reflection of relative economic stability in Canada were the demand for consumer durables have experienced growth when the markets were sharking the globe over.
The sales though are much lower than the peak seen earlier in late 2007 / early 2008.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Are two year or older children restrained by regular car seats safer or equally as safe as the ones restrained by a car seat? Using data for 45,000 accidents involving fatalities in the United States over the past 30 years, Steven Levitt argues that the $300,000,000 car seat industry has created a demand for a product that is no more safer than a regular seat belt, especially for children over the age of two. Click HERE to retrieve the working paper.
His claims have generated controversy. Traffic safety experts are in fact playing safe at the moment and are neither refuting nor supporting the claims made by Steven Levitt. Despite the controversy, Stephen makes a compelling case in support of his conclusions in the following video. Also notice that Steven wonders if policy derived lab tests using dummies should be revised to be based on data from actual crashes.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
While the manufacturing sector in Canada continues to be sluggish, its counterpart in the United States appears to have shaken off the recession blues and is on the road to recovery. According to the data released by the National Association Of Purchasing Management, the recession in the U.S. Factory sector is over.
The composite index for the factory sector in October 2009 rose to 55.7, which was the highest level reached since April 2006.
While the recovery in the U.S. appears to be on sure footing, the same cannot be said about Canada. The numbers released just yesterday by Statistics Canada suggested that the price indices for industrial products are still experiencing a decline indicating a lull in the manufacturing sector.
Could this be a tale of two economies, where the economic recovery in the United States ends up bypassing the one in Canada despite the fact that over 75% of Canadian exports are targeted at American markets.
Results from a recent opinion poll of Canadian hoteliers reveals pessimism amongst the tourism industry in Canada. A survey of hoteliers in Canada revealed that 65% hotel owners were pessimistic about the future outlook of the business, whereas only 8% were optimistic about the future outlook of the business. “Thus, the balance of opinion, or the difference between the two, was –57”%. [Statistics Canada]
On a positive note, the pessimism observed in the current quarter is lower than the one observed in the past two quarters. The hotel owners believe that vacancy rates will remain high and the room rents would remain low in the near future.
As the recession is slowly on its way out, the discretionary spending for both households and businesses continues to be low in Canada. This has an adverse impact on travel and tourism industries. Both businesses and households have reduced their travel budgets and are unlikely to resume spending on travel and tourism in the next few months.
If all goes well, one is likely to believe that the travel and tourism in Canada should be able to recover by summer 2010. The growth in travel and tourism in Canada is supported to a large extent by visitors from the United States, who are likely to increase their discretionary spending by summer 2010.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Statistics Canada recently reported that the prices for industrial goods and that of raw materials have continued falling in August 2009. Generally, the two prices indices have been on a decline since August 2008.
The decline in these price indices suggest a lull in the demand for goods used in manufacturing. This implies that manufacturing supply chains have yet to generate large demand for raw material, which further suggests that manufacturing may continue to remain sluggish for another six to eight months, depending on the inventory levels.
The US on the other hand is reporting an expansion in the manufacturing sector. In fact, the manufacturing sector in the US reported its best month in October 2009 since April 2006. Other economies including China and the UK have also experienced expansion in manufacturing. Is Canada lagging behind other G7 economies? If yes, could this be because of a modest Canadian stimulus?
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Statistics Canada has reported that the volume of cargo carried in August 2009 has been much lower than the one carried in August 2008. A decline of 16.8% from the levels in August 2008 has been recorded in 2009. The highlights are reported below:
Total freight traffic originating in Canada and freight received from the United States dropped to 21.2 million metric tonnes in August, down 16.8% from August 2008. This marked the lowest amount of traffic carried for the month of August in 10 years.
Freight loaded by the Canadian railway industry's core transportation systems, non-intermodal and intermodal, accounted for the majority of the overall drop in cargo loaded. The industry loaded 18.8 million metric tonnes of cargo in August, down 17.0% from August 2008.
Non-intermodal freight loadings, which are typically carried in bulk or loaded in box cars, fell 16.9% to 16.7 million metric tonnes. The decrease was the result of reduced loadings in the majority of the commodity groups carried by the railways. The commodity groups with the largest declines by tonnage were iron ore and concentrates (down 1.2 million metric tonnes), potash, coal, and iron and steel, primary or semi-finished.
Despite the overall drop in non-intermodal loadings, the industry saw significant gains in tonnage loadings of wheat, other cereal grains, and animal or vegetable fats, oils and flours.
Intermodal freight loadings, transported through containers and trailers loaded onto flat cars, decreased 18.3% compared with August 2008 to 2.0 million metric tonnes.
Rail freight traffic coming from the United States dropped to 2.5 million metric tonnes, down 15.0% from August 2008.
The homicide rate in Canada has largely remained stable over the years despite the increase in financial hardships in 2008. According to the latest figures released by Statistics Canada for the year 2008, law enforcement agencies recorded 611 murders in Canada. The 2008 numbers are slightly higher (17) than 2007 partly because of the increase in gang related violence in Alberta and British Columbia.
The homicide rate at fewer than two murders per 100,000 population, however, has remained more or less stable since 2000 in Canada.
There has been an increase in homicides committed using a firearm. According to Statistics Canada:
Of the 200 firearm homicides in 2008, 121 or 61% were committed with a handgun, 34 with a rifle/shotgun and 17 with a sawed-off rifle/shotgun. Over the past 30 years, the use of handguns to commit homicide has generally been increasing, while the use of rifles or shotguns has generally declined.
Police in the Toronto metropolitan area reported 50 firearm homicides in 2008, the most of any CMA. Taking population into account, however, the 12 firearm homicides in Winnipeg and the 16 in Edmonton gave those metropolitan areas the highest rates among the 10 largest CMAs.
On a positive note, the rate of females murders (0.87 per 100,000), as well as the percentage of female victims (24% of all murder victims) has been the lowest in 2008 since 1961.
The east-west divide
A breakdown by large cities with a population of or 0.5 million revealed that Winnipeg, Manitoba, recorded the highest murder rate , whereas Kitchener, Ontario, reported the lowest murder rate in Canada. Canada's largest city, Toronto, reported a murder rate of 1.86 murders per 100,000 population trailing behind Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton. The table below shows an east-west divide when it comes to murders in Canada. The murder rate is much higher in the western cities than in the eastern cities. Even with the presence of the organized crime in Montreal, the city reported a murder rate of 1.3, which is lower than that reported in Toronto.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
The Globe and Mail in Toronto reports that the Canadian universities are meeting space shortages by converting newly purchased hotels into university residences. This allows the universities to offer space to first year students who may prefer to stay at the university residence and rather than renting space outside the university.
I spent three years as a live in director of residence at McGill university's Gardner Hall residence. Given that time, McGill University acquired Residence Inn Hotel and converted it into a residence. By all accounts, that experiment has been a success and is now being repeated across the country.
Earlier in April 2009 I wrote an article for the McGill Daily about my impressions of how university residences should be governed. I reproduce the article below:
McGill residences: a governance model par excellence
Published: Apr 13 , 2009
It is 3:00 AM and you’re sound asleep on a cold winter night. Suddenly the alarm goes off, forcing you to jump out of your bed to search for the snooze button. Moments later you realize two things. First, you didn’t set the alarm, and more importantly, you don’t have an alarm clock.
Turning to the window in your third-floor room in Gardner Hall, you open the blinds and there it is: an alarm clock hanging outside your window from a thread that also carries a note, “Happy Birthday.” Things do make some sense now. Your friends on the 5th floor wanted to be the first to wish you on your birthday, and they did so by hanging an alarm clock from their window before they went to bed.
If you have ever lived in a McGill residence, the above scenario must remind you of the pranks and jokes that now constitute the most joyful memories of your time at the University. As live-in directors of Gardner Hall, my wife and I cherish the three years we spent with three batches of six floor fellows and 220 first-year students who took up residence at Gardner Hall.
My colleague in Civil Engineering, Professor Jim Nicell, talked me into the position. He was my predecessor and lived at the Gardner Hall for years with his wife and a son, who learned to walk and talk in the residence’s hallways. The visit reminded me of growing up on the campus of Lawrence College in Murree Hills, Pakistan, where the entire student body and the faculty lived on campus, which was built by the British in late nineteenth century on a hill station. I remember students dropping at our residence for tea and a discussion on classical poetry with my parents.
Even while I had years of experience living on campus with students and faculty, I was still not prepared to what I found in the Rez system at McGill. Unlike other residences where I saw the lives of students defined by a complex list of rules, regulations, and norms, the McGill Rez system operated on the single principle of “respect” plus the warning of not to mess with the fire equipment. There was no curfew, no guest restrictions, no strict times for lights off. Instead, the residents were expected to respect themselves, their co-residents, the floor fellows, and the admin staff who managed the residences. In return, the residents were treated with respect as well.
How could this work? The engineer in me wanted to see more rules and stipulations. But there were none. Has it worked in the past, I asked other directors of residences? “It has worked”, they replied, and added “not once, but always, and have been working for years.” The three years that I spent at the Gardner Hall I saw the simple rule of respect worked wonders, not failing me even once.
I have recently learnt about the attempts to “fix” the residence system at McGill University. I did not know it needed fixing. A proposal to replace the tradition of respect with a long list of laws and regulations is on the cards. I believe such a move is unlikely to improve the quality of life of those who are part of the residence system.
In fact the proposed changes may even hurt the residence governance model that has served well thousands of former residents over the past many decades. You don’t have to believe me, just ask Barrett Seaman, an acclaimed author who wrote Binge, a book on how university residences are managed in North America.
Seaman visited McGill and interviewed students, staff, and the directors of residences. He was shocked to see how our hands-off approach worked infinitely better than the barrack-mimicking, regulation-laden residence systems at other institutions. “McGill assumes its students as adults and treats them as such—even first years,” wrote Seaman while paying glowing tributes to the McGill residence system in Binge, which should be a required text for those who manage university residences.
The management style that prevailed at McGill residences is indeed nothing less than a paradigm shift for those who have not seen it in practice. The key challenge is to know when to intervene and when to let the system define its own boundaries. In my second year at the residence I saw a significant increase in poker amongst the residents. Some students spent nights playing poker in the common room. A knee-jerk reaction would have been to restrict playing poker in the common areas of the residence. I instead preferred the respect rule. I asked the student playing poker to tidy up the place at night before they head for their rooms and that I’d be keeping an eye on their academic performance as well.
Two good things came out of this approach. First, I knew exactly when and where and what these residents were up to. Realizing that we were not judging them, some even asked us to find them help to break the habit. We readily obliged. Since we were not heavy handed about it, the poker fad disappeared within weeks. The second unexpected outcome was the improved safety and reduced vandalism at Gardner Hall. Nearly half a dozen students playing poker in the common room at odd hours of the night were also keeping a watch on who entered and the left the residence. This was our version of Jane Jacobs’ eyes on the street.
When an incident required disciplinary action, I never shied away from it. The McGill Code of Conduct, also known as the Green Book, became my bed time reading as soon as I joined the Gardner Hall. I disciplined numerous students for vandalism, harassment, or mischief constituting a threat to oneself or others. I never felt the need to have any more rules put in place than the ones listed in the Green Book. However, even those whom I disciplined by imposing large fines and mandatory community service, they continued to be at very good terms with my staff and I. The reason for this was simple. We did all this with respect, letting the residents know that we were there to resolve matters with them and not for them.
There will always be events that may not be explicitly covered in the Green Book. For instance, I walked into a birthday party in the study room with doors shut and blinds drawn. The star attraction besides the “birthday boy” included two strippers performing for a largely orderly audience. My staff escorted the strippers from the building and the party continued.
One may be tempted to have a rule added to the Green Book stating: No strippers allowed. However, that will do little because such events are an extremely rare occurrence even when there is no explicit restriction on the books barring exotic performances. Similarly, restricting alcohol consumption to particular areas of residence may also not bear fruit. Students will drink wherever they please in their residences, including common rooms, TV rooms, and stairwells. For the Rez crowd, Beer Pong is an Olympic sport. One can enact laws to bar it from the residences, but just like the hundreds of universities in the U.S., one is unlikely to succeed in enforcing it.
Seaman concluded in his book that strict regulations have been behind binge drinking at the American universities where most undergraduate students are underage. Our law of respect and lower drinking age in Quebec has witnessed negligible occurrence of binge drinking at McGill residences. I think of it as a success based on a prudent management philosophy.
Recognizing McGill’s 12 drinking-related hospitalizations a year against 200 at Dartmouth and 100 at Middlebury in the U.S., which are much smaller colleges than the 20,000-strong undergraduate student body at McGill, Seaman concluded: “If a major Canadian university can marginalize high-risk drinking with an eighteen-year old age limit, surely Americans can.”
Our respect-based governance has been found superior to that of all others. Barrett Seaman recommends McGill’s residence governance model to the American schools. Why then should we abandon it?
The book has not yet been out for a week and the price wars have already begun. Steven Levitt’s and Stephen Dunbar’s sequel to Freakonomics was released last week. I picked up my copy of SuperFreakonomics at a Target store (not known for retailing books) in Los Angeles. I paid 30% less than the printed price of US$36.99 (suggested by the publisher).
Amazon.com is retailing SuperFreakonomics for $16.47.
I am super-confused. It used to be the case that the publisher would first release the hardcover at a premium price. Months later, the paperback would hit the market priced roughly 30 – 50% less than the hardback. This is how Freakonomics sold over 4 million copies. I am confused because if the hardcover for SuperFreakonomics is retailing for $16.47, the paperback may go for as low as $8. What kind of royalties are these two gentlemen looking at?
What could be behind retailing books the same way as groceries? Do the publisher and retailers think that readers may find SuperFreakonomics rather reductionist, shallow, sensationalist, and lacking the shock value of the original Freakonomics. Hence the plan may be to cut prices now to muster as much sales as possible between now and the Christmas season. I also saw in the bookstores in LA that the yet to be released book of a newly minted author, Sarah Palin, is already been advertised at a discount!
Recall that Freakonomics was released in April 2005. The book took a year to reach its peak popularity in May 2006. Since then there has been a steady decline in the interest in Freakonomics. The graph below tracks the searches conducted using Google for Freakonomics since 2005 depicting a downward trend in the interest.
This time around, SuperFreakonomics started building up a buzz since August 2009 when the authors revealed the cover on their blog. However, the interest in the sequel is nothing like the one witnessed for the first book. The graph above suggests a very mild increase in the interest in SuperFreakonomics , which pales in comparison to the spike witnessed in May 2005 when Freakonomics was released.
There could be many reasons for the lackluster interest in SuperFreakonomics . The most important one is that the novelty of pop-economics texts has worn off. Freakonomics` success inspired many others to produce similar texts. Thus Malcolm Gladwell (eg., Tipping Point) and others, who adopted Freakonomics recipe, produced successful texts that hit the market between 2007 and 2009.
Secondly, the freakonomics blog is also to be blamed. Levitt and Dunbar have been blogging from the New York Times website on very similar topics that they discuss in SuperFreakonomics. The blog has made them even more accessible to the average reader. This takes away the mystery. Plus the reader already knows that the authors will be blogging about the book, so why bother buying it.
I am certainly not suggesting that SuperFreakonomics may be a flop. Quite the contrary. The book will be a best seller. However, the payoff this time around will not be as great because the focus is on volume rather than prestige. As of October 27, the sales rankings for SuperFreakonomics from Amazon.com were as follows.
Lastly, what will happen when Wal-Mart starts selling books. I can foresee the paperback edition for SuperFreakonomics retailing for$5 at Wal-Mart. I would hate to be an author at a time when books will be sold alongside T-shirts.
Monday, October 26, 2009
According to Statistics Canada, the latest figures on tuition fees in the institutes of higher learning in Canada suggest a 3.5% increase in tuition fees even when the inflation in Canada dropped by 0.8%. A breakdown by provinces is presented below. Ontario with $5,951 and Quebec with $2,272 reported the highest and the lowest undergraduate tuition fees respectively. Surprisingly, while the cost of living is very high in British Columbia, the tuition fees in BC are comparable to the ones in PEI.
Ontario saw the highest increase in tuition fees at 5% whereas Nova Scotia experienced a decline. The Ontario legislature saw some sparks fly on the issue. See the exchange between Jim Wilson (PC) and John Milloy, minister of education in the following video:
I continue to believe that freezing tuition fees spells disaster for the quality of education. Even the celebrated schools in the UK, i.e., Cambridge and Oxford, are facing severe hardships because of the tuition freezes that are often accompanied by a decline in government funding.
Statistics Canada is reporting that retail sales have rebounded in August 2009 where the cash registers recorded $34.5 billion in sales (see graph below).
The precipitous decline in retail sales in late 2008 have largely followed with an upward trend since the beginning of 2009. The rebound in August in August was largely driven by the transport sector where the sale of cars was up by 2.4% and the sale of gasoline was up by 3.9%.
The retail sales have also jumped higher in the United States in September 2009. While the large retailers such as Macys have experienced a less than expected decline in sales, many others (e.g., Kohl’s) have seen shoppers returning in droves to stores. See the following clip from NBR:
Often I have to answer the question about what software to use for statistical analysis. The answer is not that straightforward. It depends primarily upon your analytical needs. I recommend the following software based on your needs:
- If you are conducting basic analytics with a small data set, use Microsoft Excel. You can use the built in Analytic tool box (not available in the latest version for Mac) to do descriptive statistics, correlations, regression models, and other statistical tests.
- If your analysis goes beyond the basic regression models where you may have to estimate models using maximum likelihood routines, use SPSS. It is easy to learn and is fairly powerful for undergraduate level research needs. (www.spss.com)
- If you need to write custom code, such as writing user defined maximum likelihood functions, I would recommend Stata, which is very similar to SPSS, but a whole lot powerful. Stata is sufficient for even doctoral level research in Econometrics while continuing to be fairly easy to learn. (www.stata.com)
- SAS is another option for advanced analytics. However, SAS is the tool of choice for the older generations. SAS has reluctantly embraced the changing computing platforms and therefore has the look and feel of a software from 70’s. SAS is very powerful, but least bit Sassy! (www.sas.com).
- My favorite statistical software is R, which is a freeware. R is fast becoming popular, especially after John Fox of McMaster university developed the GUI for R giving it the point and click capabilities. R is similar to Stata. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of researchers developing advanced tools for R and making them available from R’s website. The number of R add-ins exceeded 2,000 in October 2009. Lastly, a new book in 2009, R Through Excel, allows R to be run almost seamlessly from within MS Excel. The two best features of R are:
- It is absolutely free, no strings attached.
- It is extremely flexible for any advanced research in statistical methods.
A quick view of internet site traffic suggests that SAS continues to lead the market share in statistical software. However, the graph below suggests that SAS is fast loosing the market’s interest where the daily traffic to its site collapsed from almost 30,000 unique visits in July 2007 to 15,000 in August 2009. Even though R is a freeware, it is attracting more traffic to its website than the other commercial vendors, i.e., SPSS and Stata.
I have created a channel on YouTube to post training videos using R, SPSS, and Excel. In December, I will be uploading 20-hours of videos on a course in statistical methods and research.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
An increasing number of commuters use the internet to search for and book flights. There are two primary options: either to search flights using the airline-specific websites, or use the online portals, such as expedia, that search across multiple airlines.
The trend in the past has been to use the airline specific web sites, such as Air Canada.com to search for and purchase tickets. It appears that at least in Canada, the gap between airlines and web portals is narrowing . The graph below presents the Internet traffic on Canadian versions of online portals and the two main airlines operating in Canada.
While Air Canada used to receive significantly more Internet traffic in the past, the trend as of April 2008 has been of declining traffic. Expedia.ca and West Jet have experienced less of a decline in Internet traffic since April 2008 and have therefore become more competitive with Air Canada.
While the banks compete for customers and new business, the customers also search for the banks online. An interesting comparison would be to see how do Canadians use the Internet to search for banks. The underlying assumption in such a comparison is that the bank that is subject to more searches is more popular among consumers.
The answer to this riddle is available from Google. Comparing the Google based searches conducted by Canadians one can guesstimate the popularity of different bank brands amongst Canadians. Consider the following graph, which is live and interactive.
After normalizing the search volume to an index between zero and hundred, one could see that CIBC has been subject of most searches followed by Royal Bank. TD Canada Trust is ranked third.
Also note that since 2004, the above-mentioned three banks have been experiencing an increase in searches, i.e. popularity. Whereas the other two banks, the Bank of Nova Scotia and the Bank of Montreal have been experiencing a gradual decline in their Internet popularity.
Also note that consumers searches for the big five Canadian Banks drop the most in October year after year.
Another way of determining the comparative popularity of the five banks is to compare the the Internet traffic volumes to their web sites. The results are presented in the graph below. The highest Internet traffic is reported for TD Canada Trust followed by the Royal Bank of Canada. Up until August 2008, TD Canada Trust was reporting 400,000 visits to its website each day. Since then, there has been a systematic decline that was only reversed in September/October 2009.
The other three banks namely the Bank of Nova Scotia, CIBC, and the Bank of Montreal experience similar Internet traffic, which is significantly lower than the one reported for TD Canada Trust.
The two graphs present two different pictures. The first graph, which documents Internet searches run by Canadians using Google, serves as a proxy of interest amongst consumers who may not already be customers of these banks. The second graph reports Internet traffic to the specific bank websites, which is more of a proxy of Internet banking by existing customers.
Based on the above two graphs, I would conclude that CIBC appears to be the fastest growing bank in Canada followed by TD Canada Trust. Whereas the other three are likely to maintain their market share as it stands today.
The global reach of Canadian banks
While the Canadian Banks receive most of their Internet traffic from within Canada, the same banks to receive some traffic from overseas and the United States. The Internet traffic to each bank that originates in a different country than Canada would serve as a proxy of how international the bank is and what is the spatial concentration for each bank.
Based on the data recovered from Google, I have prepared the following table that shows the ranking of traffic originating in countries other than Canada for each bank after normalizing the data. It appears that The Bank of Nova Scotia is the most international bank in Canada because a large number of Caribbean countries generate internet traffic to its website. While the United States is home to the most Internet traffic originating for the four large Canadian Banks, Jamaica generates the most non Canadian traffic (normalized by Internet activity in Jamaica) for the Bank Of Nova Scotia.
The Royal Bank Of Canada is similar in its international profile as the Bank Of Nova Scotia because similar countries appear in the non Canadian traffic for both. BMO on the other hand appears to be more focused and concentrated in its non Canadian presence since it attracts traffic from Poland, China, and the United Kingdom.
The only Middle Eastern country that generates significant traffic for the Canadian Banks is Saudi Arabia which shows up for CIBC and the Royal Bank. In fact, once normalized, CIBC receives more Internet traffic from Saudi Arabia than it does from France. Surprisingly, the Bank of Montreal and CIBC do not show Mexico as generating Internet traffic to their web sites. Lastly, TD Canada Trust is the only country that shows significant Internet traffic from South Korea.
In summary, the usual suspects for non Canadian Internet traffic to the Canadian Banks are the United States, United Kingdom, India and China.
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Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Despite its financial troubles, CanWest continues to be a leading source of Internet News for most Canadians. Up until November 2008, a large number of Canadians were using Canwest’s www.canada.com as their source of Internet News with over 300,000 visitors per day. However, there has been a significant decline in the Internet traffic for Canada.com since January 2009.
Currently, the globe and mail leads the Toronto Star in Internet traffic even though both newspapers are experiencing a decline in their Internet traffic.
The the pendulum for Internet based news however has swung to the web sites operated by the two leading TV news channels in Canada. CBC.ca boasts the highest traffic at less than 300,000 visits per day followed by CTV.ca.
The global economic recession resulted in massive job losses globally. the decline in manufacturing, services, and other sectors have left many job less and in depression.
A review of the searches conducted on the internet using Google search engine reveals that the searches for depression increased significantly in October 2008. The weeks following October 2008 experienced a decline until early November. The lowest point was observed at the time of US Presidential elections in November 2008.
The see-saw ride for depression continued in November and then declined until Christmas. The anticipation of holidays could have taken the mind off of the grim employment prospect for many unemployed workers. However, as the new year started, the credit card bills poured in in the second week of January when the searches for depression started their upward climb and reached a peak in early March 2009.
From March 2009 to early July 2009, there has been a decline in the searches for the word depression. However, there has been an increase in the search for depression in the past few months, suggesting that the green shoots may be too weak to take root. Are the prospects of even more job losses on the rise?
Another economic bellwether phrase is bankruptcy. The graph below suggests that the searches for bankruptcy increased sharply in September 2008. From September 2008 to May 2009, the search for bankruptcy saw a steady trend. However, the first week of June 2009 saw a huge spike in bankruptcy searches.