Political Calculations
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20 June 2024
NASA's Perseverance Rover Completes Mars Sample Depot - Source: NASA

When we last visited Mars and its infant export economy, the Mars Perseverance Rover has collected and packaged four more rock samples on the planet's surface over the span of another Martian quarter.

We estimate the value of the samples collected during the fifth Martian quarter the rover has been on the Red Planet to be $395,544, the middle of a range that spans from $88,624 to $702,464. Through the five Martian quarters, some 23 samples have been collected in total with a combined estimated value of a little under $2.2 million. Since the end of that fifth quarter, one additional sample has been collected, so the total number of samples at this date is 24 samples in all.

As part of an initial plan to transport the collected samples to Earth, the rover has periodically deposited the samples at "depots" on Mars. The samples were to be picked up by later Mars exploration missions for export. Except that plan to send new probes and rockets to Mars to launch them to Earth has failed. That original plan proved to be both too complicated and too expensive to justify. That plan has been scrapped.

Scientists have been forced to go back to the drawing board to develop a new scheme for exporting the rock samples collected by the Mars Perseverance Rover to Earth. An official Request For Propopal for sample return missions was issued with new proposals due on 17 May 2024. The sample return mission may be significantly scaled back from the initial plan to return all samples, perhaps returning a fraction of the total number of samples collected and deposited for future export on Mars' surface. The new sample return plan is being developed to be practical.

The following table tallies the estimated value of Martian samples collected through the five quarters the Mars Perseverance Rover has functioned on the planet.

Martian GDP Estimates (Constant 2021 U.S. Dollars)
Martian Quarter Martian Year 1
First Quarter
Martian Year 1
Second Quarter
Martian Year 1
Third Quarter
Martian Year 1
Fourth Quarter
Martian Year 2
First Quarter
Approximate Earthdates 12 Jul 2021 - 31 Dec 2021 1 Jan 2022 - 21 Jun 2022 22 Jun 2022 - 11 Dec 2022 12 Dec 2022 - 30 May 2023 31 Dec 2023 - 18 Nov 2023
Estimated GDP $494,430
($110,780 - $878,080)
($66,468 - $526,848)
($199,404 - $1,580,544)
($22,156 - $175,616)
($88,624 - $702,464)
Revision Level Final Final Third Second Initial

Previously on Political Calculations

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. NASA's Perseverance Rover Completes Mars Sample Depot. [Photo]. 30 January 2023.


18 June 2024
A photo of teenagers filling out applications in an office for summer jobs in 2024. Highly detailed, 4K. Generated with Stable Diffusion DreamStudio Beta.

After dipping in April, teen jobs rose in May 2024 to their highest level since September 2007.

The initial seasonally-adjusted estimate of Americans Age 16-19 who were counted as employed in May 2024 is 5,871,000. We have to go back to November 2007 to find a higher number of teens among the employed in the United States, 5,927,000.

In November 2007, the percentage of U.S. teens with jobs stood at 34.8% out of a population of 17,048,000. Sixteen and a half years later in May 2024, the teen employment-to-population percentage is 33.4% for a population of 17,574,000 Americans between the ages of 16 and 19. That difference points to the increased population of teens in 2024 as accounting for May 2024's higher teen employment figure.

The following pair of charts illustrates both teen employment numbers and the teen employment-to-population percentage for the period from January 2016 through May 2024.

U.S. Teen Employment and U.S. Teen Employment-to-Population Percentage from January 2016 through May 2024

Drilling down into the demographic data within the employed teen population, we find that since Janaury 2024, there has been a shift away from younger teens (Age 16-17) in favor of older teens (Age 18-19) in the job figures.

Meanwhile, the percentage share of the working age teen population with jobs remains some 1 to 2% below the peaks recorded for each from December 2022 to April 2023. In other words, as of May 2024, the job market for teens is neither as strong as it was in late 2007 nor is it as strong as it was just a little over a year ago, which contradicts recent claims made about teen employment in the media.

About the Seasonally-Adjusted Data

Each of the data series presented in these charts receives its own seasonal adjustment. Because of that, the numbers of working Age 16-17 year olds and Age 18-19 year olds won't necessarily add up to the totals shown for the combined Age 16-19 population. If you're looking for employment figures that do add up, you'll want to review non-seasonally adjusted data.


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor Force Statistics (Current Population Survey - CPS). [Online Database]. Accessed: 3 May 2024.

Image credit: Stable Diffusion DreamStudio Beta. Prompt: "A photo of teenagers filling out applications in an office for summer jobs in 2024. Highly detailed, 4K." It came out as more of an illustration than a photo, but it works!

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17 June 2024
A Wall Street bull on a sailing ship looking at the horizon through a telescope. Image generated with Microsoft Copilot Designer.

It was a good week for Wall Street's bulls seeking to navigate their way through the random onset of new information in the markets. The index rose 1.6% above where it closed the previous week, closing at 5,431.60 on Friday, 14 June 2024. The index even set new record highs during the week, with 13 June 2024's 5,433.74 closing value now representing the S&P 500's highest close ever.

As for the market moving news the week held, a benign inflation report on Wednesday, 12 June 2024 was perhaps the most important story for investors in the U.S. stock market. After the report, expectations for when the Federal Reserve might begin cutting interest rates changed. The CME Group's FedWatch Tool now forecasts the Fed will hold the Federal Funds Rate steady in a target range of 5.25-5.50% only until 18 September (2024-Q3), 12 weeks earlier than what the tool projected a week ago. The tool anticipates the Fed will start a series of 0.25% rate cuts on that date, which will occur at 6-12 week intervals well into 2025 based upon how expectations changed in the past week.

The latest update of the alternative futures chart shows the trajectory of the S&P 500 running at the low end of the range that would be expected for investors focusing on 2024-Q4 in setting current day stock prices.

Alternative Futures - S&P 500 - 2024Q2 - Standard Model (m=+1.5 from 9 March 2023) - Snapshot on 14 Jun 2024

That relative position suggests a real potential upside for the S&P 500. Should investors reset their forward-looking focus toward 2024-Q3 to coincide with the change in the FedWatch Tool's projected timing for when the Fed will start cutting interest rates in the U.S., the stage would be set for the index to jump to new record highs.

But will it work out that way? As we've seen in the past week, expectations can change significantly with little advance warning thanks to the random onset of new information. Much like the market-moving headlines of the week that was.

Monday, 10 June 2024
Tuesday, 11 June 2024
Wednesday, 12 June 2024
Thursday, 13 June 2024
Friday, 14 June 2024

The Atlanta Fed's GDPNow tool's forecast of annualized real GDP growth rate during 2024-Q2 remained at +3.1% with no updates during the week. Its next update will come on 18 June 2024.

Image credit: Microsoft Copilot Designer. Prompt: "A Wall Street bull on a sailing ship looking at the horizon through a telescope".

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14 June 2024
Fuel Meter, Meter, Indication vector graphic on Pixabay - https://pixabay.com/vectors/fuel-meter-meter-indication-end-311685/

Imagine you're shopping for a new vehicle, or maybe more accurately, a newer vehicle than the one you have today. With gasoline prices running high, one of the things you're shopping for in that newer vehicle is better fuel economy.

Let's say the car you have today is a real gas guzzler. It only gets 10 miles per gallon. Shopping around, you find a newer car in your price range that gets 15 miles per gallon. That may not be great, but it is certainly more fuel efficient than your current vehicle.

Now, suppose one of your neighbors is also out shopping for a newer vehicle to replace theirs. The vehicle they have gets 25 miles per gallon and they've determined they can afford to buy a vehicle that gets double that mileage.

If you and your neighbor drive the same distance every year, which one of you will save more gas after switching to drive your respective more fuel-efficient vehicles?

You can find out with the following tool, where you only need to enter the fuel efficiency numbers for your vehicles of interest and annual miles driven. If you're reading this article on a site that republishes our RSS news feed, click here to access a working version of this tool.

Vehicle Fuel Mileage Information
Input Data Values
Miles per Gallon for Older, Less Fuel-Efficient Vehicle
Miles per Gallon for Newer, More Fuel-Efficient Vehicle
Miles Driven per Year

Change in Fuel Consumed Over One Year
Calculated Results Values
Gallons of Fuel Saved Over One Year

We've set the default data in the tool up to run the numbers for your hypothetical neighbor's newer vehicle. It finds they will reduce the amount of fuel they use in driving 15,000 miles per year by 300 gallons.

We'll let you update the numbers in the tool yourself to run the scenario for how much you might save for your own newer, more fuel-efficient vehicle, but if you run the suggested scenario of exchanging a 10 miles per gallon vehicle for one that gets 15 miles per gallon, you'll find you'll save 500 gallons. That's 200 more gallons per year than what your neighbor who bought a vehicle with double the fuel efficiency would save.

What if you bought the vehicle that can go 50 miles per gallon? Well, you could completely smoke your neighbor by saving 1200 gallons per year. But the question you need to answer is whether you can afford to buy that vehicle. Assuming that less fuel-efficient vehicles are more affordable than more fuel-efficient models, it's quite possible you could spend a lot less and still save more gas per year than your neighbor.

The examples for this tool came from this Vox article, which advocates for a better way for the automotive industry to communicate how fuel efficient the vehicles they sell are, but which ignores the personal finance issues of affordability and flunks the economics. The article is inspired by a 2008 paper that argues the Mile Per Gallon ratings for vehicles provide a misleading picture of their relative fuel efficiency. We figured it was easier to understand that argument by providing a tool to do the fuel savings math.

Image credit: Fuel Meter, Meter, Indication vector graphic by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay.

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13 June 2024
ENSO - El Nino Conditions by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ENSO_-_El_Ni%C3%B1o.svg

We often focus on human-produced contributions to the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere, but there are natural causes that contribute to that accumulation as well.

A good example is provided by the cyclical El Niño weather phenomenon, which has often added to the increase in atmospheric CO₂ levels because of its effects. Those effects often include creating drought conditions in the nation of Indonesia, which contributes to an increased incidence of wildfires during periods of strong El Niños. The years of 1997, 2015 and 2023 were accompanied by large wildfires in Indonesia, which because they occur on Indonesia's peat-rich land, produces much larger amounts of carbon dioxide emissions than wildfires in other parts of the world.

Since July 2023, Earth has experienced a strong El Niño event, which peaked in late 2023 and is now receding. As it does, the year-over-year change in the rate at which carbon dioxide accumulates in the air has been falling, which can be seen in the following chart:

Year-Over-Year Change in Parts per Million of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, January 1960 - May 2024

El Niño and Indonesian wildfire events play a significant role in the cyclical variation of carbon dioxide emissions. By contrast, China's growing carbon dioxide emissions from its prolonged efforts to stimulate its economy by expanding its coal-fired power production has produce a noticeable impact in causing the pace of CO₂ accumulation in the Earth's air to increase over the last four decades. You can see that effect in the rising level of the lows in the variation of CO₂ accumulation.


National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Earth System Research Laboratory. Mauna Loa Observatory CO2 Data. [Online Data]. Updated 5 June 2024.

Jan Null. Golden Gage Weather Services. El Niño and La Niña Years and Intensities. [Online article]. Accessed 9 June 2024.

Hans Nicholas Jong. 2023 fires increase fivefold in Indonesia amid El Niño. [Online article]. 10 January 2024.

Image credit: ENSO - El Nino Conditions by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain image.


About Political Calculations

Welcome to the blogosphere's toolchest! Here, unlike other blogs dedicated to analyzing current events, we create easy-to-use, simple tools to do the math related to them so you can get in on the action too! If you would like to learn more about these tools, or if you would like to contribute ideas to develop for this blog, please e-mail us at:

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