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5 Big Picture Trends Being Accelerated by the Pandemic

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As every email introduction has reminded us in 2020, we’re living in “unprecedented times”.

No doubt, even after a viable vaccine is released to the general public and things begin to return to some semblance of normalcy, there will be long lasting effects on society and the economy. It’s been said that COVID-19 has hit fast forward on a number of trends, from e-commerce to workplace culture.

Today, we’ll highlight five of these accelerating trends.

The following article uses charts and data from our new book Signals (hardcover, ebook) which covers the 27 macro trends transforming the global economy and markets. In some cases, where appropriate, we’ve added in the most recent projections and data.

#1: Screen Life Takes Hold

Smartphones have drastically altered many parts our lives – including how we spend time. In the decade from 2008 to 2018, screen time on mobile devices increased 12x.

increasing screen time

Fast forward to today, and screen time is up across the board, with some of the most dramatic increases seen among kids and teenagers. 44% of people under the age of 18 now report four hours or more of screen time per day – up from 21% prior to the pandemic.

Gaming is another digital segment that has benefited from the pandemic. Video game revenue spiked in the springtime, and sales have remained strong going further into 2020. Companies are hoping that casual gamers won over during lockdown will continue playing once the pandemic has come to an end.

gaming sales growth

Acceleration signal: International bandwidth and internet traffic was already increasing steadily, but COVID-19 stay-at-home activity has blown away previous numbers.

international internet traffic growth

Even as more workplaces and schools begin to operate normally again, it’s doubtful that screen time will drop back down to pre-COVID levels.

#2: The Big Consumer Shake-Up

The consumer economy has been innovating on two fronts: making physical buying as “frictionless” as possible, and making e-commerce as nimble as possible. COVID-19 broke old habits and sped up that evolution.

Innovations in real world shopping appear to be moving in the direction of cashierless checkouts, but in order for that model to work, people first need to embrace contactless payment methods such as mobile wallets and cards with tap payment.

So far, the pandemic has been an accelerant in moving people away from cash and pin-and-swipe credit cards in lagging markets. Once people get used to the convenience of contactless payments, it’s likely they’ll continue using those methods.

cashierless retail

Of course, no conversation about e-commerce is complete without talking about Amazon. The company has seen consistent growth in subscription revenue in recent years, and the company’s actions have a wide-reaching effect on the rest of the industry.

amazon revenue and speed

Much like the gaming industry, e-commerce companies like Amazon are hoping that people who dabbled with online ordering during the pandemic months, will convert into lifelong customers.

Acceleration signal: E-commerce penetration projections have shifted upward.

ecommerce forecast

In hindsight, 2020 could be an inflection point where e-commerce gained a much bigger slice of the overall retail pie.

#3: Peak Globalization

Globalization went on a tear starting from the mid-1980s until it hit a plateau during the financial crisis. Since that point, global trade as a percentage of GDP has flat-lined in the face of trade wars, and now COVID-19.

globalization plateau chart

Trade was obviously impacted by the pandemic, and it’s too early to say what the long-term effects will be. One thing that is clear is that the information component of globalization is becoming an even more important piece of the world’s economic puzzle.

globalization pillars

Even before COVID-19 took hold, the global services trade was growing 60% faster than the goods trade, and was valued at approximately $13.4 trillion in 2019.

Acceleration signal: The dip in merchandise trade looks eerily similar to the one that took place in 2008.

merchandise trade

#4: The Wealth Chasm

On the high end of the wealth spectrum, billionaires are worth more than ever.

billionaires compared with countries

Meanwhile, in the broader economy, inequality has grown over the last few decades. Those in the top 50% wealth bracket have seen increasing gains, while the bottom 50% have seen stagnation.

This issue is sure to be compounded by economic turmoil brought on by COVID-19. Younger generations face the dual challenges of being more likely to be negatively impacted by the pandemic, while also being the least likely to have savings to cover an interruption in income.

In fact, nearly half of people in the 18–24 year old age group have nothing saved at all.

financial impact of covid-19

The longer the economy is affected by COVID-19 measures, the more of a wedge will be driven between people who have continued working and those who are employed in impacted industries (e.g. tourism, events).

Acceleration signal: Growth in the net worth of billionaires has been largely unaffected by COVID-19.

billionaire wealth

#5: The Flexible Workplace

As of 2019, over half of companies that didn’t have a flexible or remote workplace policy cited “longstanding company policy” as the reason. In other words, that is just the way things have always worked.

Of course, the pandemic has forced many companies to rethink these policies.

remote work preferences

This grand experiment in remote work and distributed teams will have an impact on office life as we know it, potentially reshaping the entire “office economy”. The impact is already being felt, with global commercial property investment volume falling by 48% in Q3 2020.

Acceleration signal: Thousands of people are moving out of pricey urban areas, presumably because they are able to work remotely from a cheaper location.

migration from urban areas

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Real Estate

Mapped: The Growth in House Prices by Country

Global house prices were resilient in 2022, rising 6%. We compare nominal and real price growth by country as interest rates surged.

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The Growth in House Prices by Country

Mapped: The Growth in House Prices by Country

This was originally posted on Advisor Channel. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on financial markets that help advisors and their clients.

Global housing prices rose an average of 6% annually, between Q4 2021 and Q4 2022.

In real terms that take inflation into account, prices actually fell 2% for the first decline in 12 years. Despite a surge in interest rates and mortgage costs, housing markets were noticeably stable. Real prices remain 7% above pre-pandemic levels.

In this graphic, we show the change in residential property prices with data from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS).

The Growth in House Prices, Ranked

The following dataset from the BIS covers nominal and real house price growth across 58 countries and regions as of the fourth quarter of 2022:

Price Growth
Rank
Country /
Region
Nominal Year-over-Year
Change (%)
Real Year-over-Year
Change (%)
1🇹🇷 Türkiye167.951.0
2🇷🇸 Serbia23.17.0
3🇷🇺 Russia23.19.7
4🇲🇰 North Macedonia20.61.0
5🇮🇸 Iceland20.39.9
6🇭🇷 Croatia17.33.6
7🇪🇪 Estonia16.9-3.0
8🇮🇱 Israel16.811.0
9🇭🇺 Hungary16.5-5.1
10🇱🇹 Lithuania16.0-5.5
11🇸🇮 Slovenia15.44.2
12🇧🇬 Bulgaria13.4-3.2
13🇬🇷 Greece12.23.7
14🇵🇹 Portugal11.31.3
15🇬🇧 United Kingdom10.0-0.7
16🇸🇰 Slovak Republic9.7-4.8
17
🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates
9.62.9
18🇵🇱 Poland9.3-6.9
19🇱🇻 Latvia9.1-10.2
20🇸🇬 Singapore8.61.9
21🇮🇪 Ireland8.6-0.2
22🇨🇱 Chile8.2-3.0
23🇯🇵 Japan7.93.9
24🇲🇽 Mexico7.9-0.1
25🇵🇭 Philippines7.7-0.2
26🇺🇸 United States7.10.0
27🇨🇿 Czechia6.9-7.6
28🇷🇴 Romania6.7-7.5
29🇲🇹 Malta6.3-0.7
30🇨🇾 Cyprus6.3-2.9
31🇨🇴 Colombia6.3-5.6
32🇱🇺 Luxembourg5.6-0.5
33🇪🇸 Spain5.5-1.1
34🇨🇭 Switzerland5.42.4
35🇳🇱 Netherlands5.4-5.3
36🇦🇹 Austria5.2-4.8
37🇫🇷 France4.8-1.2
38🇧🇪 Belgium4.7-5.7
39🇹🇭 Thailand4.7-1.1
40🇿🇦 South Africa3.1-4.0
41🇮🇳 India2.8-3.1
42🇮🇹 Italy2.8-8.0
43🇳🇴 Norway2.6-3.8
44🇮🇩 Indonesia2.0-3.4
45🇵🇪 Peru1.5-6.3
46🇲🇾 Malaysia1.2-2.6
47🇰🇷 South Korea-0.1-5.0
48🇲🇦 Morocco-0.1-7.7
49🇧🇷 Brazil-0.1-5.8
50🇫🇮 Finland-2.3-10.2
51🇩🇰 Denmark-2.4-10.6
52🇦🇺 Australia-3.2-10.2
53🇩🇪 Germany-3.6-12.1
54🇸🇪 Sweden-3.7-13.7
55🇨🇳 China-3.7-5.4
56🇨🇦 Canada-3.8-9.8
57🇳🇿 New Zealand-10.4-16.5
58🇭🇰 Hong Kong SAR-13.5-15.1

Türkiye’s property prices jumped the highest globally, at nearly 168% amid soaring inflation.

Real estate demand has increased alongside declining interest rates. The government drastically cut interest rates from 19% in late 2021 to 8.5% to support a weakening economy.

Many European countries saw some of the highest price growth in nominal terms. A strong labor market and low interest rates pushed up prices, even as mortgage rates broadly doubled across the continent. For real price growth, most countries were in negative territory—notably Sweden, Germany, and Denmark.

Nominal U.S. housing prices grew just over 7%, while real price growth halted to 0%. Prices have remained elevated given the stubbornly low supply of inventory. In fact, residential prices remain 45% above pre-pandemic levels.

How Do Interest Rates Impact Property Markets?

Global house prices boomed during the pandemic as central banks cut interest rates to prop up economies.

Now, rates have returned to levels last seen before the Global Financial Crisis. On average, rates have increased four percentage points in many major economies. Roughly three-quarters of the countries in the BIS dataset witnessed negative year-over-year real house price growth as of the fourth quarter of 2022.

Interest rates have a large impact on property prices. Cross-country evidence shows that for every one percentage point increase in real interest rates, the growth rate of housing prices tends to fall by about two percentage points.

When Will Housing Prices Fall?

The rise in U.S. interest rates has been counteracted by homeowners being reluctant to sell so they can keep their low mortgage rates. As a result, it is keeping inventory low and prices high. Homeowners can’t sell and keep their low mortgage rates unless they meet strict conditions on a new property.

Additionally, several other factors impact price dynamics. Construction costs, income growth, labor shortages, and population growth all play a role.

With a strong labor market continuing through 2023, stable incomes may help stave off prices from falling. On the other hand, buyers with floating-rate mortgages face steeper costs and may be unable to afford new rates. This could increase housing supply in the market, potentially leading to lower prices.

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