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5 Undeniable Long-Term Trends Shaping Society’s Future

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5 long-term forces changing society

We’re living in a world of rapid change, where disruption is the norm and innovation is the only way to stay relevant.

The dynamic nature of society makes it difficult to decipher. However, despite the world’s complexity, there are some long-term trends that have emerged among the chaos. These help us make sense of the world today, and can give us an idea of what to expect in years ahead.

Here’s a look at five long-term trends that are set to transform society as we know it.

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: Aging World

With every successive year, our global population is skewing older.

Since 1970, our worldwide median age has grown by almost a decade. By 2100, it’s projected to increase by another 10 years.

global median age chart in the signals book

Of course, not all countries are aging at the same rate.

Using data from the UN, the graph below covers the old-age dependency ratios (OADR) of different regions, showing the proportion of working-age citizens versus the percentage of older people, who are less likely to remain in the workforce.

old age dependency ratios chart from the signals book

What’s the economic impact of an aging population? Some potential risks include rising healthcare costs, a shrinking workforce, and even economic slowdowns.

To mitigate some of these risks, it’s crucial that countries build solid pension systems to support their aging citizens. Other potential solutions include increasing the age of retirement, enforcing mandatory retirement plans, and limiting early access to benefits.

Aging populations are also influencing the make-up of households in many countries. In the U.S., the share of multigenerational family households has been rising steadily since the 1970s.

multigenerational households in the us

At a societal level, people in the oldest age groups often play a different role in society than working age people. Many seniors engage in volunteerism and play a pivotal role in childcare for their families–activities that fall outside traditional measures of economic activity.

#2: Urban Evolution

Another macro trend that’s set to transform many regions of the world is rapid urbanization.

Currently, more than half of the global population lives in urban areas, and this influx of city-dwellers is expected to grow even more in the years ahead.

urban vs rural global population

While urbanization may seem like an long-established phenomenon, it’s actually a relatively new trend, historically speaking.

Throughout human history, populations have typically lived in small villages. All the way up to the early 1800s, close to 90% of the global population still lived in rural areas. Urbanization didn’t take off on a widespread scale until the 20th century.

But once urban migration started, it snowballed, and since then it’s shown no signs of slowing down. By 2050, over two-thirds of the global population is expected to live in urban settings.

The Rise of Megacities

Even in developing countries, urban life is becoming the norm – a shift that is causing a boom in megacity growth.

urban growth in developing countries

The median population size of the world’s top 100 cities has been growing steadily too – from eight million in 2000 to a projected 12 million in 2035.

Why is this happening? People tend to migrate to urban areas for socioeconomic reasons, and these economic pull-factors are particular strong in the developing world. Over time, this migration and increase in the standard of living is lifting millions of people out of poverty. This brings us to our third trend.

If you like this post, find hundreds of charts
like this in our new book “Signals”:


Signals: Book

#3: Rising Middle Class

While poverty is far from eradicated, the global middle class is growing, and fewer people are living in extreme poverty than ever before.

rising global middle class

As the above graph shows, there was an overall increase in daily income from 1971 to 1995. By 2019, income levels had increased even further.

According to Brookings, an average of five people are entering the global middle class per second, and by 2030, the worldwide middle class population is expected to reach 5.3 billion.

global population by wealth category

As the global middle class grows, so does the market for products and services around the world. And as the middle class has more disposable income to spend, these developing markets can create new opportunities for companies and investors alike.

In fact, according to MSCI, although global equity markets are dominated by North American companies (61.5%) in terms of market capitalization, the vast majority of revenues (70.1%) come from outside North America. As the rest of the developing world gets richer, this trend is likely to accelerate.

#4: Rising Wealth inequality

People in lower-income economies aren’t the only people generating more wealth—the richer are also increasing their net worth. By a lot.

Over the last few decades, the wealth of America’s top 10% has increased by billions of dollars, while the middle and bottom wealth groups have stayed relatively stagnant.

share of total wealth by wealth group

What’s driving this wealth inequality? One key factor is the different types of assets each wealth group owns. While the top 10% invest heavily in the stock market, other wealth groups rely on real estate as their main form of investment.

assets vs historical performance

Historically, equities have had higher returns than real estate—making the rich richer and leaving the bottom 90% behind.

#5: Environmental Pressures

So far, we’ve touched on four demographic shifts that are transforming society as we know it. But these changes in our global population size, wealth, and consumption habits have had far-reaching consequences. This last trend touches on one of those consequences—increased environmental pressure.

Since the year 1850, the global average temperature of land areas has risen twice as fast as the global average.

global surface temperatures

Various factors have contributed to increasing temperatures, but one major source stems from human-produced greenhouse gas emissions.

What human activities contribute to global emissions the most? The biggest culprit is industrial activity—32% of total emissions, while energy use in buildings comes in second at 17%.

Our Warmer World

Why is this significant? Rising temperatures pose a risk to our ecosystems and livelihood by changing weather patterns and putting the global food supply at risk.

climate change and extreme weather events

The past half-decade is likely to become the warmest five-year stretch in recorded history, underscoring the rapid pace of climate change. On a global scale, even a small increase in temperature can have a big impact on climate and our ecosystems.

For example, air can hold approximately 7% more moisture for every 1ºC increase, leading to an uptick in extreme rainfall events. These events can trigger landslides, increase the rate of soil erosion, and damage crops – just one example of how climate change can cause a chain reaction.

For the billions of people who live in “drylands”, climate change is serving up a completely different scenario of increased intensity and duration of drought. This is particularly worrisome as 90% of people in these arid or semiarid regions live in developing economies that are still very reliant on agriculture.

As a society, we will need to take a hard look at the way we consume in order to begin mitigating these risks. Will we rise to the challenge?

If you like this post, find hundreds of charts
like this in our new book “Signals”:


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Energy

The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns (2021 Edition)

Which commodity had the best returns in 2020? From gold to oil, we show how commodity price performance stacks up over the last decade.

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The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns (2011-2020)

Being a commodity investor can feel like riding a roller coaster.

Take silver. Typically known for sharp, idiosyncratic price movements, it faced double-digit declines in the first half of the decade, falling over 35% in just 2013 alone. By contrast, it jumped over 47% in 2020. Similarly, oil, corn, and others witnessed either steep declines or rapid gains.

The above graphic from U.S. Global Investors traces 10 years of commodity price performance, highlighting 14 different commodities and their annual ranking over the years.

Commodity Price Performance, From Best to Worst

Which commodities were the top performers in 2020?

The aforementioned silver tripled its returns year-over-year, climbing 47.9% in 2020. In July, the metal actually experienced its strongest month since 1979.

RankCommodity
Return (2020)
Return (2019)
Return (2018)
1Silver47.9%15.2%-8.5%
2Copper26.0%3.4%-17.5%
3Palladium25.9%54.2%18.6%
4Gold25.1%18.3%-1.6%
5Corn24.8%3.4%6.9%
6Zinc19.7%-9.5%-24.5%
7Nickel18.7%31.6%-16.5%
8Gas16.0%-25.5%-0.4%
9Wheat14.6%11.0%17.9%
10Platinum10.9%21.5%-14.5%
11Aluminum10.8%-4.4%-17.4%
12Lead3.3%-4.7%-19.2%
13Coal-1.3%-18.0%-22.2%
14Oil-20.5%34.5%-24.8%

Along with silver, at least seven other commodities had stronger returns than the S&P 500 in 2020, which closed off the year with 16.3% gains. This included copper (26.0%), palladium (25.9%), gold (25.1%) and corn (24.8%).

Interestingly, copper prices moved in an unconventional pattern compared to gold in 2020. Often, investors rush to gold in uncertain economic climates, while sectors such as construction and manufacturing—which both rely heavily on copper—tend to decline. Instead, both copper and gold saw their prices rise in conjunction.

Nowadays, copper is also a vital material in electric vehicles (EVs), with recent demand for EVs also influencing the price of copper.

Silver Linings

As investors flocked to safety, silver’s price reached heights not seen since 2010.

The massive scale of monetary and fiscal stimulus led to inflationary fears, also boosting the price of silver. How does this compare to its returns over the last decade?

silver returns 2011-2020

In 2013, silver crashed over 35% as confidence grew in global markets. By contrast, in 2016, the Brexit referendum stirred uncertainty in global markets. Investors allocated money in silver, and prices shifted upwards.

As Gold as the Hills

Like silver, market uncertainty has historically boosted the price of gold.

What else contributed to gold’s rise?

  • U.S. debt continues to climb, pushing down confidence in the U.S. dollar
  • A weaker U.S. dollar makes gold cheaper for other countries to buy
  • Low interest rates kept the returns of other safe haven assets low, making gold more attractive by comparison

Here’s how the price of gold has changed in recent years.

gold returns 2011-2020

Gold faced its steepest recent declines in 2013, when the Federal Reserve bank discussed tapering down its quantitative easing program in light of economic recovery.

Hitting the Brakes On Oil

Oil suffered the worst commodity price performance in 2020, with -20.5% returns.

For the first time in history, oil prices went negative as demand plummeted. To limit its oversupply, oil producers shrunk investment, closed wells, and turned off valves. Unfortunately, many companies still faced bankruptcies. By November, 45 oil producers had proceeded with bankruptcy filings year-to-date.

This stood in stark contrast to 2019, when prices soared 34.5%.

oil returns 2011-2020

As is custom for oil, prices see-sawed over the decade. In 2016 and 2019, it witnessed gains of over 30%. However, like 2020, in 2014 it saw huge losses due to an oversupply of global petroleum.

In 2020, total production cuts hit 7.2 million barrels a day in December, equal to 7% of global demand, in response to COVID-19.

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Mining

Why Gold Mining Stocks Outperform Gold in Bull Markets

Gold mining stocks outpace gold returns in bull markets, but how? With higher gold prices, miners get ahead thanks to operating leverage.

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Gold Mining Stocks in Gold Bull Market

Why Gold Mining Stocks Outperform Gold in Bull Markets

Gold is highly revered for its great returns and resilience during economic downturns, but during gold bull markets there’s something that regularly provides even greater returns: the ownership of gold mining stocks.

Over the past 20 years, gold mining stocks have outperformed the price of gold bullion in bull markets, offering what can be seen as a leveraged play on gold’s price appreciation.

While gold miners offer more potential upside, they also have higher volatility and greater downside during dips, making market timing and strong hands all the more important.

This infographic comes to us from Sprott and compares the returns of gold stocks and gold bullion in bull markets. It also explains how gold stocks outperform thanks to profit expansion, and shows why there might be more upside for gold miners to come.

How Operating Leverage Benefits Gold Mining Companies

During the 2000-2011 gold bull market, the price of physical gold rose 550%. While you might think that number is hard to beat, over the same period of time gold mining equities (represented by the NYSE Arca Gold Miners Index) returned more than 690%.

In the current gold bull market which started in 2015, gold mining stocks are up more than 182%, more than doubling gold bullion’s 78% returns.

This outperformance in bull markets is largely due to how gold mining companies use their operating leverage to maximize profits, resulting in their share prices appreciating.

Breaking Down Gold Mining Costs and Profits

As a gold mining company mines and produces gold, the gold is sold on the market fairly quickly to avoid the risk of gold’s price depreciating.

When the price of gold rises, miners immediately start to see greater profits from selling their ounces on the market. While the costs to mine gold also rise in bull markets, they rise less and at a slower rate.

The result of this is profit expansion: when operationally efficient gold mining companies are able to capture larger profits, resulting in increased operating and free cash flow.

Breakdown of Barrick Gold’s Profit per Ounce of Gold

YearAll-in Sustaining Costs/oz (in USD)Realized Gold Price/oz (in USD)Profit/oz (in USD)
2015$831$1,157$326
2016$730$1,248$518
2017$750$1,258$508
2018$806$1,267$461
2019$894$1,396$502
2020$984$1,748$764

During the current gold bull run which started in 2015, Barrick Gold’s average realized price per troy ounce of gold increased by 50%, while their all-in sustaining costs per troy ounce only went up by 18%.

This has resulted in the company increasing their profit per ounce of gold sold by a staggering 134% over the past six years.

Making the Most of Golden Times

While higher profit margins during bull markets are great, it’s up to the individual company to ensure the extra cash is being used prudently to efficiently support their operations.

Bull markets don’t last forever, and gold miners must use these prosperous times to strengthen their balance sheets, reward shareholders, and reinvest into projects which will provide future value and returns.

Dividend-paying gold stocks increase dividends to reward loyal shareholders, with the average dividend increase of top gold mining stocks in a bull market often doubling.

Over the decades, companies have gotten better at making the most of bull markets in order to be well-guarded for when gold prices stop appreciating, and eventually start declining.

Why Gold Mining Stocks May Still Be Undervalued

Even if gold mining stocks have already seen impressive returns over the past five years, there are some technical indicators which point to them still being undervalued compared to other equities and gold bullion.

  • The top 10 gold mining companies have seen their earnings per share estimates almost triple in the past two years.
  • The top 20 S&P 500 companies have seen around a -15% decline in their earnings per share estimates.

Along with having better earnings per share compared to the top U.S. equities, gold mining stocks may also be undervalued compared to gold bullion.

The gold mining stocks to gold bullion ratio is at historically low levels after having dropped more than 60% following the 2008 financial crisis. While gold bullion is increasingly seen as a safe haven asset for investors, gold miners are still overlooked despite their strong technicals.

Gold and Gold Miners’ Role in the Future Economy

As money printing has been the Federal Reserve’s main answer to an increasingly volatile economic climate, gold and its producers are set to play a crucial role in helping investors preserve their wealth.

Gold has yet again outperformed just about every other asset class in 2020, and gold miners offer even greater returns for those willing to manage the additional risk they present.

Gold mining stocks are much more volatile compared to gold bullion, and have a variety of additional risks dependent on their company structure, jurisdiction of operations, and operational efficiency. But for investors who are looking for exceptional returns in gold bull markets, they can be an alluring option.

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