Political Calculations
Unexpectedly Intriguing!
November 22, 2017

Want to know how many turkeys were raised on U.S. farms and where those farms are?

You've come to the right place! First up, the following chart shows how many millions of U.S. turkeys have populated U.S. farms in each year from 1970 through 2017.

Number of Turkeys Produced on U.S. Farms, 1970-2017

The following map indicates the 14 states in which nearly 88% of those turkeys lived in 2016!

Are you ready to meet this year's flock?

U.S. Farm-Raised Turkeys - Source: https://agresearchmag.ars.usda.gov/2017/nov/

Just in case you came to this post searching for information about the population or demographics of Turkey, well, go here instead....

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November 21, 2017

Some key statistics about U.S. farm-raised turkeys in 2017:

  • Turkeys breed in the spring, their twenty-eight-week growth cycle coinciding perfectly with Thanksgiving.
  • Turkey consumption has grown from 6.4 pounds/person in 1960 to 16.8 pounds/person in 2017.
  • Pound for pound, turkey is the least expensive meat and is a low-fat meat alternative to beef and pork.
  • We eat more than 46 million turkeys on Thanksgiving.
  • The average weight of a turkey is now over 30 pounds; it was 15 pounds in 1930.
  • Turkeys have been transformed by breeding into a fast-growing bird, efficiently converting feed to food.
  • Turkeys are so large they require artificial insemination to reproduce.
  • Industrial turkey production is year-round, producing turkey bacon, sausage, burgers and those large turkey legs found at Disney World.
  • Industrialization has problems, such as stressing the animals, who no longer regulate their food intake and mimic us, overeating too often. Their deaths may be humane but remain disturbing to those (sub)urbanites who remain disconnected from their sources of food.

Those stats are a little outdated - the preliminary data that we have from the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicates that the average live weight of a farm-raised turkey in the United States is now a little over 31 pounds (14 kg) in 2017.

Average Live Weight of Each U.S. Farm-Raised Turkey Produced, 1970-2016, with Preliminary Data for 2017

Which brings up a question that perhaps should now be asked: "What is the biological limit for how big a turkey can get?"

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November 20, 2017

It's Thanksgiving Week 2017, and here at Political Calculations, that means that we'll be devoting the whole week to exploring the centerpiece of this uniquely American holiday in keeping with our annual traditions.

But that doesn't mean that we won't be discussing things like the stock market either - we'll just be loading it up with a healthy serving of Thanksgiving turkey.

Let's get started by doing just that, where we'll update the chart showing our favorite spurious correlation of all time - the apparent relationship that exists between the average live weight of U.S. farm-raised turkeys and world stock prices. The following chart updates that relationship through this point of time in 2017!

Spurious Correlation: Average Live Weight of U.S. Farm-Raised Turkeys and Annual Average of MSCI World Stock Market Index, 1970 - 2017(YTD)

If you're the type of person who believes that they can divine the future from any synchronous patterns you identify on charts showing apparently strongly correlated data like this - and the correlation here is indeed strong with an R² of 0.9717 - you should be very worried about the potential for a stock market crash in the near term, seeing as the chart shows that every time that the MSCI world stock index has risen higher than the proportionately scaled average live weight of U.S. farm-raised turkeys, a major correction hasn't been far behind.

We'll also tell you that even after detrending the data to account for the rising linear trends for both data series, the correlation doesn't disappear as you might suspect would happen for a fully spurious correlation. Instead, the R² drops to 0.5315, which might be considered to be a moderately-strong correlation.

And yet, we're happy to confirm that the apparent correlation is genuinely spurious. It's total garbage - the growth of the average weight of turkeys raised on farms in the U.S. is not, in any way that we can identify, connected to the growth of global stock prices.

If you want proof of how worthless this apparent relationship is, just consider that we first featured the spurious correlation between the average live weight of U.S. farm-raised turkeys and global stock prices back in 2014 - and as yet, the major sustained correction in stock prices that would seem to be imminent from this apparent relationship has not occurred.

So when you see charts showing these kinds of seemingly-correlated relationships, take them with a strong grain of salt! You should, at the very least, be able to identify some connection that logically links the two data series being compared. Without such a connection, you're likely just looking at something that, while it might be fun to consider, probably doesn't have much bearing upon or connection to the real world.

Speaking of which, since we've opened the door, if you're reading this article on a site that republishes our RSS news feed that also allows comments, plese share your links to examples of fun-but-false correlations. At the very least, the exercise might help you avoid the social disaster minefield that you would find yourself in if you're foolish enough to start talking up politics at this year's Thanksgiving feast by arming you with better and more interesting discussion topics.

Update: If you like puzzles and would like to take on an extra challenge over the holiday, you might consider looking into our detrending observation, where the trends that need to be subtracted from both series to properly detrend them are perhaps not linear ones!

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November 17, 2017

Back in June 2014, we were among the first to observe in near real time that China's economy had cooling to the point where it could be considered to be in recession, which we based on a unique combination of trade and environmental data. The recessionary conditions that we observed persisted from 2014 through mid-2016, when they finally began to reverse. We noted at the time that both trade data and the measurements of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere indicated that the Earth's economy was cooling during that period.

In January 2017, the outgoing Obama administration claimed that the global economy was growing while carbon emissions were flat, an apparent decoupling between the two that directly contradicted our observations.

On 13 November 2017, we got a stunning vindication of our observations from the Global Carbon Project, which released its latest updates and measurements for worldwide carbon emissions, via the Financial Times, which reported the following (emphasis ours):

Stronger Chinese economic growth will push global greenhouse gas emissions to a record high in 2017 after remaining flat for three years, dashing tentative hopes of a turning point in the world’s efforts to curb climate change.

A new report by the Global Carbon Project, an international research consortium, predicts that carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry will rise 2 per cent this year. The report was released at the UN climate change meeting in Bonn on Monday....

This year’s rise is especially disappointing as it follows three years of almost no growth in emissions despite a world economy expanding at a steady clip. In 2016, emissions were flat even though the world economy grew 3.2 per cent. One explanation for the uptick is that China’s economic slowdown in the middle part of this decade was more pronounced than official figures suggested.

Earlier this year, the government of China's Liaoning province acknowledged that they had outright fabricated fiscal and economic growth data over a period of several years, coinciding with the tenure of the province's Communist party chief Wang Min, who ran Liaoning from 2009 to 2015. The FT speculates that Liaoning was far from the only province that engaged in that practice, where they identified four other provinces in northern and eastern China that also appear to have been reporting inflated economic figures.

Which brings us to a remarkable bit of evidence that we came across on NASA's Black Marble web site, which recently updated its nighttime map of Earth, providing us with the ability to compare images captured in 2016 with ones captured four years earlier in 2012. We've animated the nighttime map of Southeast Asia, which flips between 2012 and 2016 below.

Animation: NASA Black Marble - Southeast Asia, 2012 vs 2016

If you look closely at the map, you'll see the nighttime lights brighten in areas that experienced economic growth between 2012 and 2016, such as along the coast of Viet Nam, and dim in the areas that experienced recessionary conditions between those two years. Pay very close attention to what happened between 2012 and 2016 in northern and eastern China....

The correlation between Night Time Lights (NTL) and economic activity has been found to be a "good proxy" for assessing economic development, particularly in countries that lack high quality economic data reporting.

The evidence is accumulating that the period from 2014 through mid-2016 was not as good as China's official statistics have previously indicated. Given the importance and sheer size of China's economy, it's remarkable that its relative economic health can be both seen from space and measured in the Earth's atmosphere thousands of miles away from its territory.

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November 16, 2017

Every three months, we take a snapshot of the expectations for future earnings in the S&P 500 at approximately the midpoint of the current quarter, shortly after most U.S. firms have announced their previous quarter's earnings. Today's snapshot of the trailing year earnings per share for the S&P 500 reveals that the stock market's earnings have continued rebounding off their 2016-Q3 bottom, where the S&P 500's earnings per share now exceed their previous 2014-Q3 peak. Even by the most conservative measure, the long earnings recession for U.S. firms is finally over!

Forecasts for S&P 500 Trailing Twelve Month Earnings per Share, 2014-2019, Snapshot on 8 November 2017

Looking into the future, the outlook for earnings per share in the near term has dipped slightly since August 2017, but has brightened in the more distant future of the second half of 2018.

Data Source

Silverblatt, Howard. Standard & Poor. S&P 500 Earnings and Estimates. [Excel Spreadsheet]. Updated: 8 November 2017. Accessed: 15 November 2017.

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