Every day, the Information Age bombards us with massive amounts of data.
Experts now estimate that there are 40 times more bytes of data in existence than there are stars in the whole observable universe.
And like the universe, our datasphere is also rapidly expanding—and every few years, there is actually more new data created than in all prior years of human history combined.
Searching for Signals
On a practical level, this dense wall of impenetrable data creates a multitude of challenges for investors and decision makers alike:
- It’s mentally taxing to process all the available information out there
- Too much data can lead to “analysis paralysis”—an inability to make decisions
- Misinformation and media slant add another layer for our brains to process
- Our personal biases get reinforced by news algorithms and filter bubbles
- Data sources—even quality ones—can sometimes conflict with one another
As a result, it’s clear that people don’t want more data—they want more understanding. And for this reason, our team at Visual Capitalist has spent most of 2020 sifting through the noise to find the underlying trends that will transform society and markets over the coming years.
The end result of this effort is our new hardcover book “SIGNALS: Charting the New Direction of the Global Economy” (hardcover, ebook) which beautifully illustrates 27 clear signals in fields ranging from investing to geopolitics.
The 6 Signals Shaping the Future of Finance
What clear and simple trends will shape the future of markets?
Below, we show you a small selection of the hundreds of charts found in the book with a focus on global finance and investing:
#1: 700 Years of Falling Interest Rates
The first signal we’ll showcase here is from an incredible dataset from the Bank of England, which reconstructs global real interest rates going back all the way to the 14th century.
Some of the first data points in this series represent well-documented municipal debt issued in early Italian banking centers like Genoa, Florence, or Venice, during the beginning stages of the Italian Renaissance.
The early data sets of loans to noblemen, merchants, and kingdoms eventually merge with more contemporary data from central banks, and over the centuries it’s clear that falling interest rates are not a new phenomenon. In fact, on average, real rates have decreased by 1.6 basis points (0.016%) per year since the 14th century.
This same spectacle can also be seen in more modern time stretches:
And as the world reels from the COVID-19 crisis, governments are taking advantage of record-low rates to issue more debt and stimulate the economy.
This brings us to our next signal.
#2: Global Debt: To $258 Trillion and Beyond
The ongoing pandemic certainly made analysis trickier for some signals, but easier for others.
The accumulation of global debt falls into the latter category: as of Q1 2020, global debt sits at a record $258 trillion or 331% of world GDP, and it’s projected to rise sharply as a result of fiscal stimulus, falling tax revenues, and increasing budget deficits.
The above chart takes into consideration consumer, corporate, and government debt—but let’s just zoom in on government debt for a moment.
The below data, which is from early 2020, shows government debt ballooning between 2007 and early 2020 as a percentage of GDP.
This chart does not include intragovernmental debt or new debt taken on after the start of the pandemic. Despite this, the percentage increase in debt held by some of these governments is in the triple digits over a period of only 13 years, including the 233% increase in the United States.
But it’s not just governments going on a borrowing spree. The following chart shows consumer debt over a recent four-year span, sorted by generation:
While Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation are successfully winding down some of their debt, younger generations are just getting aboard the debt train.
Between 2015-2019, Millennials added 58% to household debt, while Gen Xers find themselves (in the middle of their mortgage-paying years) as the most indebted generation with $135,841 of debt per household.
#3: Blue Chips and the Circle of Life
There was a time when it seemed absolutely unfathomable that large, entrenched companies could see their corporate advantages slide away.
But as the recent collapses of Blockbuster, Lehman Brothers, Kodak, or various retailers have taught us, there are no longer any guarantees around corporate longevity.
In 1964, the average tenure of a company on the S&P 500 was 33 years, but this is projected to fall to an average of just 12 years by the year 2027 according to consulting firm Innosight.
At this churn rate, it’s expected that 50% of the S&P 500 could turnover between 2018-2027.
For established companies, this is a sign of the times. Between the rapid acceleration in the speed of innovation and continuously falling barriers to market entry, the traditional corporate world finds itself playing defense.
For investors and startups, this is an interesting prospect to consider, as disruption now appears to be the status quo. Could the next big company to dominate global markets be found in someone’s garage in India today?
If you like this post, find hundreds of charts
like this in our new book “Signals”:
#4: ESG is the New Status Quo
The investment universe has reached an interesting tipping point.
Historically, performance was all the mattered to most investors—but going forward, considering ESG criteria (environment, social, and governance) is expected to become a default component of investment strategy as well.
By the year 2030, it’s expected that a whopping 95% of all assets will incorporate ESG factors.
While this still seems far away, it’s clear that change is already happening in the investment sphere. As you can see in the following graphic, the percentage of ESG assets has already been rising by trillions of dollars per year globally:
If you think this is a powerful trend now, wait until Millennials and Gen Z investors sink in their teeth. Both generations show a higher interest in sustainable investing, and both are already more likely to incorporate ESG factors into existing portfolios.
Companies are getting in front of the ESG investing trend, as well.
In 2011, just 20% of companies on the S&P 500 provided sustainability reports to investors. In 2019, that percentage rose to 90%—and with the world’s biggest asset managers already on board with ESG, there’s pressure for that to hit 100% in the coming years.
#5: Stock Market Concentration
In the last 40 years, the U.S. market has never been so concentrated as it is now.
The top five stocks in the S&P 500 have historically made up less than 15% of the market capitalization of the index, but this year the percentage has skyrocketed to 23%.
Not surprisingly, it’s the same companies—led by Apple and Microsoft—that propelled market performance the previous year.
Looking back at the top five companies in the S&P 500 over time helps reveal an important component of this signal, which is that it’s only a recent phenomenon for tech stocks to dominate the market so heavily.
#6: Central Banks: Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Since the financial crisis, central banks have found themselves to be in a tricky situation.
As interest rates close in on the zero bound, their usual toolkit of conventional policy options has dried up. Traditionally, lowering rates has encouraged borrowing and spending to prop up the economy, but once rates get ultra-low this effect disappears or even reverses.
The pandemic has forced the hand of central banks to act in less conventional ways.
Quantitative easing (QE)—first used extensively by the Federal Reserve and European Central Bank after the financial crisis—has now become the go-to tool for central banks. By buying long-term securities on the open market, the goal is to increase money supply and encourage lending and investment.
In Japan, where QE has been a mainstay since the late-1990s, the Bank of Japan now owns 80% of ETF assets and roughly 8% of the domestic equity market.
As banks “print money” to buy more assets, their balance sheets rise concurrently. This year, the Fed has already added over $3.5 trillion to the U.S. money supply (M2) as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, and there’s still likely much more to be done.
Regardless of how the monetary policy experiment turns out, it’s clear that this and many of the other aforementioned signals will be key drivers for the future of markets and investing.
If you like this post, find hundreds of charts
like this in our new book “Signals”:
The World’s Top Car Manufacturers by Market Capitalization
The World’s Top Car Manufacturers by Market Cap
View the high-resolution of the infographic by clicking here.
Ever since Apple and other Big Tech companies hit a market capitalization of $1 trillion, many sectors are revving to follow suit—including the automotive industry.
But among those car brands racing to reach this total valuation, some are closer to the finish line than others. This visualization uses data from Yahoo Finance to rank the world’s top car manufacturers by market capitalization.
What could this spell for the future of the automotive industry?
The World’s Top Car Manufacturers
It’s clear one company is pulling far ahead of the pack. In the competition to clinch this coveted title, Tesla is the undoubted favorite so far.
The electric vehicle (EV) and clean energy company first became the world’s most valuable car manufacturer in June 2020, and shows no signs of slowing its trajectory.
|Rank||Company||Market Cap (US$B)||Country|
|#7||General Motors||$71.3||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#12||Hyundai||$46.8||🇰🇷 South Korea|
|#17||Maruti Suzuki||$33.1||🇮🇳 India|
|#18||Li Auto||$29.5||🇨🇳 China|
All data as of January 15, 2021 (9:30AM PST)
Tesla’s competitive advantage comes as a result of its dedicated emphasis on research and development (R&D). In fact, many of its rivals have admitted that Tesla’s electronics far surpass their own—a teardown revealed that its batteries and AI chips are roughly six years ahead of other industry giants such as Toyota and Volkswagen.
The Green Revolution is Underway
The sheer growth of Tesla may spell the inevitability of a green revolution in the industry. Already, many major brands have followed in the company’s tracks, announcing their own ambitious plans to add more EVs to their vehicle line-ups.
Here’s how a selection of car manufacturers are embracing the electric future:
Toyota: Ranked #2
The second-most valuable car manufacturer in the world, Toyota is steadily ramping up its EV output. In 2020, it produced 10,000 EVs and plans to increase this to 30,000 in 2021.
Through this gradual increase, the company hopes to hit an expected target of 500,000 EVs by 2025. Toyota also aims to debut 10 new models internationally to achieve this goal.
Volkswagen: Ranked #3
By 2025, Volkswagen plans to invest $86 billion into digital and EV technologies. Considering the car manufacturer generates the most gross revenue per second of all automakers, it’s no wonder Volkswagen is looking to the future in order to keep such numbers up.
The company is also well-positioned to ride the wave of a potential consumer shift towards EVs in Europe. In response to the region’s strict emissions targets, Volkswagen upped its planned sales proportions for European hybrid and EV sales from 40% to 60% by 2030.
BYD and Nio: Ranked #4-5
China jumped on the electric bandwagon early. Eager to make its mark as a global leader in the emerging technology of lithium ion batteries (an essential component of any EV), the Chinese government handed out billions of dollars in subsidies—fueling the growths of domestic car manufacturers BYD and Nio alike.
BYD gained the interest and attention of its billionaire backer Warren Buffett, while Nio is China’s response to Tesla and an attempt to capture the EV market locally.
General Motors: Ranked #7
Also with a 2025 target year in mind, General Motors is investing $27 billion into electric and fully autonomous vehicles. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, too—the company also hopes to launch 30 new fully electric vehicles by the same year.
One particular factor is giving GM confidence: its new EV battery creations. They will be able to extend the range of its new EVs to 400 miles (644km) on a single charge, at a rate that rivals Tesla’s Model S.
Stellantis: Ranked #9
In a long-anticipated move, Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot S.A. finalized their merger into Stellantis N.V. on January 16, 2021.
With the combined forces and funds of a $52 billion deal, the new Dutch-based car manufacturer hopes to rival bigger brands and race even more quickly towards the electric shift.
Honda: Ranked #11
Speaking of fast-paced races, Honda has decided to bow out of future Formula One (F1) World Championships. As these competitions were usually a way for the company to show off its engineering prowess, the move was a surprising one.
However, there’s a noble reason behind this decision. Honda is choosing instead to focus on its commitment to become carbon neutral by 2050. To do so, it’ll be shifting its financial resources away from F1 and towards R&D into fuel cell vehicle (FCV) and battery EV (BEV) technologies.
Ford: Ranked #15
Ford knows exactly what its fans want. In that regard, its electrification plans begin with its most popular commercial cars, such as the Mustang Mach-E SUV. This is Ford’s major strategy for attracting new EV buyers, part of a larger $11.5 billion investment agenda into EVs through 2022.
While the car’s specs compare to Tesla’s Model Y, its engineers also drew from the iPhone and Netflix to incorporate an infotainment system and driver profiles to create a truly tech-first specimen.
Speeding into the Horizon
As more and more companies enter the racetrack, EV innovation across the entire industry may power the move to lower overall costs, extend the total range of vehicles, and put any other concerns by potential buyers to rest.
While Tesla is currently in the best position to become the first car manufacturer to reach the $1 trillion milestone, how long will it be for the others to catch up?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 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%.
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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