This is brilliant. Investors are using satellite imagery to augment their financial analysis.

As an example of how Wall Street getting in on this techhology, the UBS Investment Research issued its earnings preview for Wal-Mart's [WMT 50.68 -0.18 (-0.35%) ] second quarter, which publicly revealed that UBS [UBS 17.04 0.22 (+1.31%) ] had been using used satellite services of private-sector satellite companies to gather the comings and goings of the parking lots at Wal-Mart stores. “UBS proprietary satellite parking lot fill rate analysis points to an interesting cadence intra-quarter and potential upside to our view,” the report read.

UBS analyst Neil Currie had been looking at satellite data on Wal-Mart during each month of 2010, and he’d concluded that there was enough correlation between what he was seeing in the satellite pictures of Wal-Mart’s parking lots to the big-box chain’s quarterly earnings, that he was ready to incorporate that data into UBS’ report on Wal-Mart, which releases its earnings on Tuesday.

Currie purchased his analysis from a small two-year old Chicago-based firm called Remote Sensing Metrics LLC, which had scoured satellite images of more than 100 Wal-Mart stores chosen as a representative sample.

By counting the cars in Wal-Mart’s parking lots month in and month out, Remote Sensing Metrics analysts were able to get a fix on the company’s customer flow. From there, they worked up a mathematical regression to come up with a prediction of the company’s quarterly revenue each month.

What industries other than retail can be scrutinized by satellite? Some possibilities:

  • construction
  • forestry
  • trains, trucking, ports
  • amusement parts
  • beaches and other tourism
  • car sales

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