What you need to know
- A report has revealed how oil companies thought they could use Apple's mobility data to predict gasoline consumption.
- Turns out, they were wrong.
- That's because mobility data uses search information, not miles traveled.
A Reuters report has revealed how oil companies thought they could use Apple's mobility data to predict oil consumption.
When Apple launched its mobility data to help better understand the spread of COVID-19 and the enforcement of stay-at-home measures, oil companies thought they had found "the holy grail" of metrics:
On-the-spot gasoline consumption figures would change the way oil markets trade, because it is "the holy grail of metrics," said Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy.
A few weeks ago, the market thought it had found it. In mid-April, Apple Inc (AAPL.O) unveiled new data tracking human mobility trends, capturing user activity in searching for directions on smartphones.
The timing was perfect. Traders were chasing any clue to fathom the speed of recovery from the fastest and deepest collapse in fuel demand in history during coronavirus lockdowns. They relished the chance to incorporate mobility data into trading models.
Turns out, they were wrong. U.S. Memorial day came and went, and the mobility data did not match up with consumption. Thanks in-part to built-in privacy, the mobility data actually served no purpose to the oil companies. That's because the mobility data is based not on the number of miles traveled (a key figure for gasoline consumption), but rather on the number of searches made on Maps. It doesn't matter how many people are driving on a particular day if their car is only traveling a hundred yards.
One investment manager noted that the data does not correlate as well to demand as some other indexes, but that the trend of using real-time data would be there to stay:
Sallee said he was still using Apple's figures, but combining them with other datapoints to make decisions as an energy-focused stock fund manager.
"The pandemic made everyone a lot smarter about sourcing and using real-time demand data, a trend I think is here to stay even after it subsides," Sallee said.
Apple's mobility data, however, will only be available for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, as noted by Apple's website.
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