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Thai gov’t turns to satellite imagery to predict the future

Thailand is turning to satellite images for faster updates on the economy than official data can provide — and the signs suggest a nascent recovery is underway.

Reviewing images from outer space of nitrogen dioxide concentration and visible light at night has become a regular routine at the Finance Ministry’s fiscal policy planning agency.

Pisit Puapan, director of the agency’s macroeconomic unit, sees early indications of a rebound from April’s slump.

In a world rocked by the coronavirus pandemic, many countries are turning to alternative indicators like Google mobility trends, power consumption and website traffic to better assess how consumers and businesses are coping with lockdowns and the gradual reopening of their economies.

Thailand is one of the worst-hit economies in Asia — with the central bank expecting a contraction of more than 8% this year — and officials are hunting for timely data as they shape policy.

“The economy today changes rapidly,” Pisit said. “Current monthly or quarterly indicators aren’t responsive enough, so we’ve been trying to find several high-frequency indicators to better monitor economic activities.”

“What we found from these indicators is that things started picking up since May,” he said.

“The second quarter should be the lowest point of the economy, and we should see gradual improvement in the second half of this year.”

Next week the Ministry of Tourism will be reading each other’s tea leaves, the Ministry of Transport will check to see which way the buffalo are facing and the Ministry of Education will have a go at stargazing.

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