Forefront Communications

Barron’s: Counting Heads


Forefront Communications

Forefront Communications

In days of yore, stock analysts sat outside stores and loading docks, counting. That task has been automated—and how—by a company that last week announced a real-time location-data service called Streams. The service from the New York–based Thasos Group tracks signals from millions of mobile phones to let investors count heads at shopping malls, factories, or fracking camps, allowing nearly instantaneous measures of store traffic and industrial activity.

“Everyone is carrying around a mobile phone today,” says Thasos founder and CEO Greg Skibiski. “We can see the locations of hundreds of millions of people inside of every hour.” Thasos gets the data from firms whose smartphone apps you permit to report your location. Skibiski says the data in Streams are aggregated and stripped of personally identifiable information.

Big investors have long studied spending trends using credit- and debit-card transactions compiled by services like the Yodlee unit of Envestnet. But credit cards don’t give good signals on businesses like hotels or airlines, where many bookings go through third-party travel websites. Last spring, Thasos data showed that foot traffic at shopping malls was falling even faster than suggested by the guidance of REITs like Simon Property Group, GGP and Taubman Centers. Investors seeing that data could’ve avoided some of the sector’s selloff.

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