5 Undeniable Long-Term Trends Shaping Society’s Future
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5 Undeniable Long-Term Trends Shaping Society’s Future

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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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This Simple Chart Reveals the Distribution Of Global Wealth

Global wealth at the end of 2020 was about $418 trillion. Here’s a breakdown of the global wealth distribution among the adult population.

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The Global Wealth Distribution in One Chart

The pandemic resulted in global wealth taking a significant dip in the first part of 2020. By the end of March, global household wealth had already declined by around 4.4%.

Interestingly, after much monetary and fiscal stimulus from governments around the world, global household wealth was more than able to recover, finishing up the year at $418.3 trillion, a 7.4% gain from the previous year.

Using data from Credit Suisse, this graphic looks at how global wealth is distributed among the adult population.

How is Global Wealth Distributed?

While individuals worth more than $1 million constitute just 1.1% of the world’s population, they hold 45.8% of global wealth.

Wealth RangeWealthGlobal Share (%)Adult Population
Over $1M$191.6 trillion45.8%Held by 1.1%
$100k-$1M$163.9 trillion39.1%Held by 11.1%
$10k-$100k$57.3 trillion13.7%Held by 32.8%
Less than $10k$5.5 trillion1.3%Held by 55.0%
Total$418.3 trillion100.0%Held by 100.0%

On the other end of the spectrum, 55% of the population owns only 1.3% of global wealth.

And between these two extreme wealth distribution cases, the rest of the world’s population has a combined 52.8% of the wealth.

Global Wealth Distribution by Region

While wealth inequality is especially evident within the wealth ranges mentioned above, these differences can also be seen on a more regional basis between countries.

In 2020, total wealth rose by $12.4 trillion in North America and $9.2 trillion in Europe. These two regions accounted for the bulk of the wealth gains, with China adding another $4.2 trillion and the Asia-Pacific region (excluding China and India) another $4.7 trillion.

Here is a breakdown of global wealth distribution by region:

RegionTotal Wealth
(US$B)
Change in Total Wealth
(US$B)
Change %Wealth Per Adult
(US$B)
Change %
North America136,31612,37010.0486,9309.1
Europe103,2139,1799.8174,8369.8
Asia-Pacific75,2774,6946.760,7905.0
China74,8844,2466.067,7715.4
India12,833-594-4.414,252-6.1
Latin America10,872-1,215-10.124,301-11.4
Africa4,946360.77,371-2.1
World418,34228,7167.479,9526.0

India and Latin America both recorded losses in 2020.

Total wealth fell in India by $594 billion, or 4.4%. Meanwhile, Latin America appears to have been the worst-performing region, with total wealth dropping by 11.4% or $1.2 trillion.

Post-COVID Global Outlook 2020-2025

Despite the burden of COVID-19 on the global economy, the world can expect robust GDP growth in the coming years, especially in 2021. The latest estimates by the International Monetary Fund in April 2021 suggest that global GDP in 2021 will total $100.1 trillion in nominal terms, up by 4.1% compared to last year.

The link in normal times between GDP growth and household wealth growth, combined with the expected rapid return of economic activity to its pre-pandemic levels, suggests that global wealth could grow again at a fast pace. According to Credit Suisse estimates, global wealth may rise by 39% over the next five years.

Low and middle-income countries will also play an essential role in the coming year. They are responsible for 42% of the growth, even though they account for just 33% of current wealth.

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Mapping The Biggest Companies By Market Cap in 60 Countries

Tech, finance or energy giant? We mapped the biggest companies by market cap and industry.

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Mapping The Biggest Companies By Market Cap in 60 Countries Share

The Biggest Companies By Market Cap in 60 Countries

Tech giants are increasingly making up more of the Fortune 500, but the world’s biggest companies by market cap aren’t so cut and dry.

Despite accounting for the largest market caps worldwide—with trillion-dollar companies like Apple and contenders including Tencent and Samsung—tech wealth is largely concentrated in just a handful of countries.

So what are the biggest companies in each country? We mapped the largest company by market cap across 60 countries in August 2021 using market data from CompaniesMarketCap, TradingView, and MarketScreener.

What are the Largest Companies in the World?

The world has 60+ stock exchanges, and each one has a top company. We looked at the largest local company, since many of the world’s largest firms trade on multiple exchanges, and converted market cap to USD.

CountryCompanyIndustryMarket Cap (August 2021)
USAAppleTechnology$2.5T
Saudi ArabiaSaudi AramcoEnergy$1.9T
TaiwanTSMCTechnology$594.5B
ChinaTencentTechnology$554.0B
South KoreaSamsungTechnology$429.7B
FranceLVMHConsumer Cyclical$414.3B
SwitzerlandRocheHealthcare$350.0B
NetherlandsASMLTechnology$322.6B
JapanToyotaConsumer Cyclical$251.6B
DenmarkNovo NordiskHealthcare$236.7B
IrelandAccentureTechnology$208.2B
IndiaReliance IndustriesEnergy$198.1B
AustraliaBHP GroupMaterials$191.7B
CanadaShopifyTechnology$185.7B
UKAstrazenecaHealthcare$182.0B
GermanySAPTechnology$174.6B
SingaporeSEATechnology$152.3B
Hong KongAIAFinancials$146.4B
BelgiumAnheuser-Busch InbevConsumer Staples$122.7B
SpainInditexConsumer Cyclical$108.3B
BrazilVALEMaterials$103.9B
RussiaSberbankFinancials$96.7B
ItalyEnelUtilities$93.7B
ArgentinaMercadoLibreConsumer Cyclical$89.5B
SwedenAtlas CopcoIndustrials$84.1B
South AfricaNaspersTechnology$74.1B
NorwayEquinorEnergy$67.9B
UAEEtisalatCommunication$58.7B
MexicoWalmexConsumer Staples$58.1B
IndonesiaBank Cental AsiaFinancials$54.8B
KazakhstanKaspi.kzFinancials$49.8B
QatarQNBFinancials$48.2B
FinlandNordea BankFinancials$48.0B
LuxembourgArcelorMittalMaterials$36.3B
AustriaVerbundUtilities$33.7B
ThailandPTT PCLEnergy$30.1B
ColombiaEcopetrolEnergy$26.7B
MalaysiaMaybankFinancials$23.7B
PhilippinesSM InvestmentsConsumer Cyclical$22.9B
KuwaitKuwait Finance HouseFinancials$21.9B
PortugalEDP GroupUtilities$21.0B
VietnamVinhomesReal Estate$17.1B
IsraelNICETechnology$16.9B
KenyaSafaricomCommunication$16.0B
Czech RepublicÄŒEZ GroupEnergy$15.8B
New ZealandXeroTechnology$15.8B
TurkeyQNB FinansbankFinancials$15.8B
HungaryOTP BankFinancials$15.6B
ChileEnel AmericasUtilities$14.3B
MoroccoMaroc TelecomCommunication$13.6B
PolandPKO Bank PolskiFinancials$12.6B
CyprusPolymetalMaterials$10.0B
NigeriaDangote GroupMaterials$10.0B
BahrainAhli United BankFinancials$8.6B
GreeceOTE GroupCommunication$8.4B
PeruCredicorpFinancials$8.0B
EgyptCommercial International BankFinancials$5.9B
IcelandMarelIndustrials$5.8B
OmanBank MuscatFinancials$4.2B
PanamaCopa HoldingsIndustrials$3.1B

Many are former monopolies or massive conglomerates that have grown in the public space, such as South Africa’s Naspers and India’s Reliance Industries.

Others are local subsidiaries of foreign corporations, including Mexico’s Walmex, Chile’s Enel and Turkey’s QNB Finansbank.

But even more noticeable is the economic discrepancy. Apple and Saudi Aramco are worth trillions of dollars, while the smallest companies we tracked—including Panama’s Copa Group and Oman’s Bank Muscat—are worth less than $5 billion.

Finance and Tech Dominate The Biggest Companies By Market Cap

Across the board, the largest companies were able to accumulate wealth and value.

Some are newer to the top thanks to recent success. Canada’s Shopify has become one of the world’s largest e-commerce providers, and the UK’s AstraZeneca developed one of the world’s COVID-19 vaccines.

But the reality is most companies here are old guards that grew on existing resources, or in the case of banks, accumulated wealth.

IndustryBiggest Companies by Country
Financials16
Technology12
Energy6
Materials5
Communication4
Consumer Cyclical4
Utilities4
Healthcare3
Industrials3
Consumer Staples2
Real Estate1

Banks were the most commonly found at the top of each country’s stock market. Closely behind were oil and gas giants, mining companies, and former state-owned corporations that drove most of a country’s wealth generation.

But as more economies develop and catch up to Western economies (where tech is dominant), newer innovative companies will likely put up a fight for each country’s top company crown.

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