By Alan Hall
In December 2006, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek piece for EWI’s Market Watch page that explained the correlation between society’s mood as reflected by stock prices and the height and number of lights on the National Christmas Tree.
This year, the DJIA has declined since October, and stocks continued to plunge on Christmas Eve, an event some media outlets called the “Nightmare Before Christmas.” Likewise, the National Christmas Tree also reflected the dour mood, as it was dark for three days because of vandalism and a partial government shutdown. In 2013, I updated my 2006 story, which is long gone from the web, and added a chart of the “National Christmas Tree Indicator” (NCTI) that included data on tree height and the number of lights since 1923. The NCTI is a less-sensitive meter of social mood than Dow/PPI, but across several decades still reflected the waxing and waning of festive sentiment.
Hoping to update the height and number of lights of the current tree, I visited the timeline page at https://thenationaltree.org/visit-the-tree-2/event-history/, but it only extends through 2015. So, I visited the National Park Service’s National Christmas Tree webpage, which led me to another indication of the national mood. When I followed the link to “Learn more about the history of the National Christmas Tree,” I landed on an official U.S. Department of the Interior login page that warns,
By logging into this agency computer system, you acknowledge and consent to the monitoring of this system. Evidence of your use, authorized or unauthorized, collected during monitoring may be used for civil, criminal, administrative, or other adverse action. Unauthorized or illegal use may subject you to prosecution.
Scrooge would love it!
So, here for your enjoyment is the 2013 article. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to you all!
The National Christmas Tree… Indicator?
The National Christmas Tree has a fascinating history, especially at Christmastime. Like the price of gold, the height of the Tree has actually been “regulated” at times.
The chart clearly shows that, until the mid-1980s, the most bullish periods in the Dow correspond with the tallest trees. Selected from around the country, these trees were in turn cut and trucked to Washington. For example, the 30-foot Colorado blue spruce planted in 1977 during the Carter presidency is still alive and has grown to about 42 feet in thirty years. The NCTI was a useful leading indicator of the stock rally from 1948. The 1993 break of the 1965 high in the Dow/PPI was unconfirmed by the NCTI, a bearish signal.
The following are highlights from the National Park Service’s National Christmas Trees web page.
- 1923: 48 feet — The first National Christmas Tree was a cut, 48-foot fir, electrically lit by Calvin Coolidge touching a switch at the base.
- 1924: 35 feet — The first live tree, a 35-foot spruce. The same living tree was used through 1928.
- 1929: A new, live tree of the same variety replaced the previous one. Smaller bulbs were used to lessen stress on the new tree, and ornaments were used for the first time.
- 1931: 25 feet — A new live tree replaced the 1929 tree that was damaged by trimming and decorating.
- 1934: 23 feet, 250 ornaments — The lights briefly didn’t work when Roosevelt pressed the button, causing a stir in the press.
- 1936: 23 feet —
- 1939: 36 feet — Mercury vapor lights. “The President decried war, invoked the beatitudes of Christ, and called on ‘belligerent nations to read the Sermon on the Mount.'”
- 1940: 32 feet – 700 lights, 150 “twinkling stars.”
- 1941: 30 feet — “The White House grounds were not open to the public until 4:30 p.m. for security reasons.” In order to enter the grounds, the public was required to “check all packages with soldiers outside the Executive Mansion grounds” and pass through an “electric searcher.”
- 1945: 34 feet — Truman re-lights the tree, dark for the past three years for security reasons.
- 1949: 30 feet — Truman lights the tree by remote control from Independence MO.
- 1954: 67 feet, 2100 lights — A cut tree was used again, and decorators were hired. From this year through 1972 tree heights were as high as 78 feet and never went below 60 feet.
- 1957: 60 feet — “500 multi-colored plastic balls, 9,000 9-watt electric bulbs, 200 clusters of glitter ornaments, approximately 350 plastic snowflakes, and a five-foot plastic star at the top.”
- 1958: 74 feet, 7000 lights, 10 live reindeer from Alaska.
- 1959: 70 feet, 3800 lights.
- 1960 through 1970: Cut tree heights in feet were 75, 75, 72, 71, 72, 70, 65, 70, 74, 75, and 78.
- 1971: Tree heights began crashing with a fall to 63 feet. A rebound in 1972 to 70 feet was followed by an environmentally correct return to live trees, which precipitated a devastating collapse to 42 feet in 1973, 34 feet in 1977, and a final bottom at 30 feet in 1979.
- 1978 to date: The Carter administration’s Colorado blue spruce has grown steadily at about six inches per year and today it stands at about 42 feet.
To augment the straight-line height data, we added intermittent data on the numbers of lights. Numbers of lights peaked along with Dow/PPI in 1966 and again in 2000, reaching an all time high of 125,000 lights. The downturn began in 2001 with 100,000 lights. In 2002, there is no light data, possibly reflecting a dark mood. In 2003 there was a “return to yesteryear” with 400 ornaments. A weak rebound began in 2004 with 15,000 lights and continued through 2005 with 25,000 lights. In 2007, according to General Electric, 26 strings of 500 energy-efficient LED lights were used for the first time, a maximum of 13,000 lights.
The only light description we could find for the 2008 tree mentions “thousands of lights.” Even though the new LED technology reduces power consumption and increases the longevity of lights — lowering the overall cost of lighting the National Christmas Tree — the numbers of lights on the tree are declining, exactly as we would expect when social mood shifts toward a desire to conserve.
In 2013, thenationaltree.org reported “This year’s lighting design includes approximately 110 LED net lights and 225 LED string sets … .” We count that as 335 total lights.
And while we couldn’t find data on the height of the 2012 tree, we did find a picture of the lighting ceremony. The picture didn’t show the top of the tree, so we projected the apex and used Barack Obama’s 6’1” height to estimate the tree height. By our rough estimation, the tree didn’t exceed 23 feet, even with a star on top. We used the same technique this year and it appears the tree is now about 26 feet tall.
The Federal Reserve is still trying to inflate the credit markets. Similarly, LED technology now allows a gigantic inflation of the numbers of lights on the National Christmas Tree. But there are limits to how much light you want on a tree, just as there are limits to how much credit you want at Christmas.
We hope you have happy holidays.