Monthly Archives: July 2012

By guest contributor Paul Hodges

I suggested in an earlier post that chemical prices were an excellent leading indicator for the health of the global economy. The data highlighted that firms were finding it difficult to pass through crude oil related price increases. In turn, this was a warning that both the global and Chinese economies might be slowing faster than generally supposed. This caution since seems to have been amply justified.

Thus a new initiative by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) deserves watching. The ACC is the trade body for the US chemical industry, and it has developed a new Chemicals Activity Barometer which aims to provide early warning of changes in the wider US economy.

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Martin Stabe

We launched the FT’s economically-weighted medal table on Sunday night.

Rather than ranking the table in the conventional format – gold medals followed, where equal, by silver medals and finally bronze medals – we are ranking counties by their performance against a benchmark developed from four economic models. These predict success on the basis of socioeconomic factors that have been shown to contribute to Olympic performance historically.

Even on our weighted measure, China leads with its 12 medals, representing 4.6 more than would be expected at this stage of the games. Italy’s seven medals place its over-achievement to date hundredths of a percentage point behind. Great Britain, by contrast, is near the foot of our table, underachieving by 2.8 medals so far. Read more

The Olympics are finally here and the web is awash with interactive graphics and visualisations.

Here are the ones it’s worth taking a second look at:

Dressed for a world record?
This is a must-view for swimming fans. The invention of slick, hi-tech bodysuits enabled a series of world records to be broken, but since the suits were banned in 2010 few records have been beaten. The Washington Post looks at the evolution of Olympic swimwear and tracks this against world records in each swimming discipline. Read more

Martin Stabe

Over the next two weeks, the Olympic “medal table”, ranking nations according to the number of gold, silver and bronze medals their athletes have collected in London will be widely reported.

But there will be few surprises: The United States, China and Russia will almost certainly top the table, followed by the smaller wealthy countries. Great Britain will most likely fare better than usual, because the host nation usually does.

Population, GDP per capita, past performance and “home advantage” appear to have a strong relationship to nations’ Olympic success, a common-sense observation that has long been demonstrated by social science.

Substantial academic literature, stretching back to the 1950s, has been produced by economists, sociologists and political scientists using statistical techniques to relate nations’ macroeconomic conditions to their Olympic performance, and forecasting upcoming games.

Typically, these take the form of regression analyses that use historical macroeconomic data as independent variables to account for participating countries’ medal share at the Olympics.

During the London games, the FT will use three four such models as a benchmark to rank our medal table according to teams’ ability to outperform models that account for their size, wealth and other socioeconomic factors: Read more

Chris Cook

The new higher education fee structure, beginning in 2012, will allow universities in England to levy fees up to £9,000 a year.

This table shows each institution’s minimum,  maximum, and average fees, according to figures released on Thursday by the Office for Fair Access, along with the expected number of undergraduates it will have in 2012-2013. Read more

Kate Allen

On the face of it, the ONS’s loss of nearly half a million people in its mid-year population estimates would seem like a bad news story for the statisticians. But counter-intuitively the omission is a positive sign.

The 2011 Census found that there were 56.1m people in England and Wales, up from the ONS’s extrapolated estimate of 55.6m. Nearly half of the error is a hangover from the previous Census in 2001. At that time the ONS managed to lose a staggering 1m people, most of whom were accounted for in a post-Census review. The remaining 209,000 have been added back into this year’s Census, marking probably the final major adjustment to 2001’s flawed data. Read more

Kate Allen

With the ONS publishing the results of its latest attempt to measure British people’s wellbeing, it’s worth a quick recap of how this compares to other countries’ methods as the collection of international wellbeing data is at an early stage.

Whilst the OECD is in the process of developing guidance to harmonise standards and approaches, existing surveys – including the World Values Survey, the European Social Survey and the Gallup World Poll – vary in approaches.

The ONS questions combined short-term measures with longer-term, more reflective indicators, on a scale of 0-10.

Gallup asks people to rate the quality of their life on a scale of 0-10, while the ESS and the WVS both ask respondents how satisfied they are with their life as a whole, again on a scale of 0-10. They also ask how happy they are, with the ESS again using a 11-point scale and the WVS offering a phrase-based menu of choices. Read more

Chris Cook

Last week, the FT published an interview with Sir Michael Wilshaw. Lots of interviewees, especially in public policy, are very guarded. Sir Michael is not. This may give his press handlers nightmares, but everyone should welcome it. This is for educationally minded people more than data nerds, but I thought I’d put up some more of his thoughts.

I’ll not publish the whole thing yet (there are a few things we discussed that I intend to return to). So this is still a highlights package. First, a few shorter snippets. It’s very striking how often London Challenge, a policy to improve schools in the capital, came up. Sir Michael, who rose to prominence as a London head teacher, kept praising that policy. For example, speaking about the north, he said:

What is it about those areas like Hull and Grimsby and North Lincolnshire that prevents those youngsters doing well? Some of it is quite honestly a political failure where we’ve known that these areas were failing for a number of years and if local politicians really want to address this, they can put pressure on both schools, local authorities, the department for education to do something about this. We’ve shown through London Challenge what can be done in London. London is certainly… and I’ve been a London teacher all my life. It wasn’t a good place to be in the 70s and 80s and 90s; now it’s one of the top performing parts of the country through London Challenge. Same happened in Manchester. So, why can’t we do that in these areas?

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The beautiful game is about to get a bit more by the numbers. Starting in 2013 the US soccer league – Major League Soccer – will begin using Adidas’ micoach elite system, which will track “heart rate, speed, acceleration, distance, field position and, for the first time, power.”

The data be collected in real time and transmitted wirelessly for in-game analysis and fans will have access to the raw numbers as well – meaning pub debates could get a lot more interesting in the future.

The sports data analysis revolution that took hold first in US baseball and has crept in to basketball has left football (or in the US, soccer) relatively untouched. Most stats haven’t changed much since categories like shots, fouls and passes completed. Read more

European banks have reduced their loan exposure in the US in the past few years as contagion fears hit investment appetite. The following interactive graphic shows how these loan portfolios ballooned in the months leading up to the crisis and then were pulled back in the months and years following the financial crisis.

Kate Allen

The steady improvement in the number of fatal injuries in UK workplaces appears to have tailed off, according to data recently-released to the FT by the Health & Safety Executive*.

173 workers were killed on the job in 2011/12, a rate of 0.6 deaths per 100,000 workers.

Taking into account chance variation, the overall trend suggests that death rates have plateaued since 2008 after a decade of downward trend.

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Calculating the economic impact of the Olympics is a Herculean task with different meanings for different authors. At its most basic, some try to estimate the effect on national output of staging the games and building the venues. More sophisticated studies attempt a proper economic cost-benefit analysis, in which the costs and benefits of building the infrastructure are measured as well as the costs and benefits of hosting the event. For London 2012, a sophisticated analysis has proved beyond most researchers.

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The first major development in the 2012 US presidential race was handed down by the US Supreme Court on June 28 which found the Affordable Care Act to be constitutional.

Did Obama receive a bump in the polls, or did the ruling galvanize voters toward Romney? And what about the betting market? (I explain the background to the betting market in this post on the 2008 election.)

Not earth shattering, but it does seem there was a little movement. The Iowa market saw Obama receive a bump from $55.40 to $57.20 – a legitimate increase taking Obama near the top of his range since the beginning of June. Romney, meanwhile, took a hit from $46 to $43.20.

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Valentina Romei

Whilst the slowdown in China’s headline rate of growth has been extensively covered, what deserves more careful attention is its regional component.

This chart shows the economic growth rate in Q1 2012 of the various Chinese regions and their relative importance, sourced from China’s National Bureau of Statistics.


The growth of smaller regions was more volatile and was generally faster than for larger regional economies. Tianjin – a metropolis in northern China along the coast that boasts the highest GDP per capita in the country – had an impressive double digit growth, but its impact on the national number was fairly limited as it accounts for just above 2 percent of national production. Read more

Martin Stabe

The population of England and Wales has grown by more than seven per cent since 2001, the first release of data from the 2011 census shows.

The estimate, based on the census taken on March 27 2011, recorded a population of 53.0 million in England and 3.1 million in Wales, representing an increase of 3.7 million in the decade since the 2001 census, which recorded a population of 52.4 million.

This increase of 7.1 per cent represents the largest growth in the population in England and Wales in any 10-year period since the 1911 census.

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Crafting a reliable leading indicator is a tricky business in the world’s most mature economies, with analysts using a cocktail of different data points to try to get ahead of the curve in forecasting growth. In a developing nation, especially one that is growing and changing as quickly as China, the task is much harder because there are few consistent reference points to compare.

Yet in recent years, several leading indicators for China have garnered attention after doing a good job of predicting the economy’s slowdown at the end of 2008 and its subsequent recovery.

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Emily Cadman

Should we be most concerned about young men not fulfilling their potential, or young girls? Boys right? Barely a week goes by without concerned stories that they are being left behind in the classroom, or in the race for top degrees.

But a counter intuitive chart in today’s Office for National Statistics release on education as component of national well being, shows that isn’t necessarily the case.

It shows quite clearly that it is girls losing their way post secondary school. The spikes in the graph are Q3 data showing the immediate period post secondary school.

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Chris Cook

Last week, courtesy of the brilliant Institute of Education librarians, I had a quick leaf through some old CSE papers – until 1988, many children not entered for the O-level were entered for this exam.

A few things of profound educational significance jump out from these exam papers. One day, I’ll probably write about that. Mostly, however, I just gawped at some of the odd things in them.  Exam papers are pretty revealing about the societies underpinning them. Read more