Animation: 100 Years of the Most Populous Countries
“I think ageing demographics is a bigger issue in China than people think. And the problems it creates should be become evident as early as 2016.” – Stan Druckenmiller, a 2013 quote
Over the last year, we’ve been very skeptical of the near-term potential for robust global economic growth.
The media narrative throughout 2015 was that U.S. rates were on the rise, and that the American economy would finally normalize post-crisis. Stock and real estate prices reached record highs on this optimism, and many pundits expected growth and interest rates to return to more traditional levels.
Over the last few months, we’ve noticed that this narrative has changed significantly. Even though the U.S. is doing “okay” for growth, the global economy is now more entwined than ever. It’s more challenging than ever before for one economy to prop up the rest during stagnation.
Markets this year got off to their worst-ever start after jitters from China rippled through international markets. Oil has continued its plunge and is now trading near $30/bbl. Manufacturing is slowing in the United States. Europe and Japan are going nowhere, and the amount of global debt is starting to signal alarm bells.
Finally, media and investors are accepting the idea that things may not normalize the way they “should”. Instead, the question has become more fundamental: are there even any bright spots in the first place?
Back to Basics
We welcome this new found skepticism, and over the coming months part of our focus here will be to go back to the basics.
Markets aren’t rational, but we can still aim to provide rational context around the fundamentals of the market. In the long run, we believe this will help investors and regular people understand the world better.
A big part of this fundamental approach is demographics, or the changing composition of population over time.
Today’s animation, which covers the change in populations over 100 years for the most populous countries, is a starting place for this.
The first point of interest is that by about the year 2000, all European countries dropped out of the rankings. At the beginning of the animation, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy were all there. Birth rates have declined to the lowest in the world, which establishes immigration as the only potential option for economic growth. With the recent events in Paris and the current backlash against Middle Eastern immigrants, this Catch-22 becomes even more interesting and important.
Germany, in particular, faces a crucial demographic cliff. We aim to cover this in the very near future, since the country is an important engine for Europe.
Another major point of interest, as we referenced in the opening quote, is the changing demographics of China. In the next decade or so, China’s population will stop growing altogether – and then it will start shrinking. This is the predictable aftermath of China’s one-child policy for many decades. The country still has a giant portion of the population that will continue to move up the ladder economically, but we will be looking at what these circumstances could mean as they loom closer.
Lastly, the rise of India and Nigeria can’t be understated in importance. Both are home to the fastest growing cities in the world. Nigeria will pass the U.S. to become the third largest country in the world by population in the coming decades, and India could be the world’s next China.
When will this potential growth factor into the economy and investments? That’s something else we plan to look at as it becomes more relevant.
Original graphic by: Aron Strandberg
Meet China’s 113 Cities With More Than One Million People
China has the same amount of 1 million+ population cities as both North America and the EU combined. Here they all are, from biggest to smallest.
In 2010, China’s urban-dwelling population surpassed its rural population, marking a monumental demographic milestone in the country’s history.
Just three decades prior, China looked markedly different. Only 20% of Chinese citizens lived in urban areas, and many of today’s metropolises were still small villages.
Since then, huge swaths of the population have moved from farmland into cities, a shift that is still causing many urban areas to swell in size. Case in point is the growth of Guangzhou, which lays just north of Hong Kong. From 1980 to today, more than 18 million people moved into the city. A 40-year-old born in Guangzhou will have seen their small, regional city mushroom into one of the largest urban amalgamations on Earth.
Of course, this is just one example of a process that has been altering the landscape of cities from the coast of the South China Sea out to the Eurasian Steppe.
The One Million+ Club
According to Demographia’s World Urban Areas report, there are now 113 urban areas in China that surpass the one million population threshold. In comparison, North America and the EU combined have 114 urban areas that surpass one million people.
Below is a full breakdown of China’s one million+ club:
The massive scale of rural-to-urban migration isn’t just a major development within China, it has no parallel in modern history.
Since 1980, over half a billion people have moved from the countryside to an urban center. The construction of these new cities took a staggering amount of raw materials. Few data points highlight the scale of construction better than China’s cement production in recent years.
In 2018, Chinese construction used about 8x the amount of second place India, which has a similar population size.
Megacities on Megacities
Cities with over 10 million inhabitants are defined as megacities. China is already home to six megacities, with another three urban areas well on the way to achieving that status.
In fact, some megacities within close proximity have grown so large that they are merging into contiguous urban areas. The most prominent example of this phenomenon is in the Pearl River Delta region of China.
The Pearl River Delta region is not only home to the megacities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen, but also a number of other sizable cities that are quickly merging into a unified continuous entity containing up to 50 million people. Demographia still considers most of these cities to be separate labor markets — but as more connections form across the region, the Pearl River Delta could be poised to become the largest unified urban area in human history.
As megacities like Shanghai and Shenzhen have grown and developed, they’ve also become more expensive places to live and do business. The economic evolution of these cities has created opportunity for smaller, less developed cities to woo both residents and businesses.
This natural reshuffling has led to impressive growth in cities further inland like Zhengzhou, which sits 350 miles (630 kms) east of the coastline where many of the country’s largest cities reside.
Using the “build it and they will come” approach, the city converted a 160 square mile (410 sq km) patch of empty land into the Zhengzhou Airport Economy Zone (ZAEZ). The project has proven wildly successful, and the city even has the nickname “Apple City” thanks to the presence of Foxconn (which produces the iPhone) and a cluster of other smartphone manufacturers.
This airport-centered zone was developed with the full political and economic backing of Beijing as part of a broader effort to increase economic activity in China’s interior cities. Zhengzhou has nearly tripled in size over the last decade, a powerful testament to the shift in economic momentum.
China’s Inland All-Stars:
|Urban Area||Population 2010||Population 2019||Change (2010-19)|
Compare the numbers above to fast-growing cities in the U.S., such as Las Vegas or Phoenix, which managed 33% and 12% growth respectively over the last decade.
If this trend continues, China’s one million+ club will most likely expand once fresh census data is released in 2021.
How China Overtook the U.S. as the World’s Major Trading Partner
China has become the world’s major trading partner – and now, 128 of 190 countries trade more with China than they do with the United States.
How China Overtook the U.S. As the World’s Trade Partner
In 2018, trade accounted for 59% of global GDP, up nearly 1.5 times since 1980.
Over this timeframe, international trade has transformed significantly—not just in terms of volume and composition, but also in terms of the countries that the rest of the world leans on for their most important trade relationships.
Now, a critical shift is occurring in the landscape, and it may surprise you to learn that China has already usurped the U.S. as the world’s most dominant trading partner.
Trading Places: A Global Shift
Today’s animation comes from the Lowy Institute, and it pulls data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) database on bilateral trade flows, to determine whether the U.S. or China is a bigger trading partner for each country from 1980 to 2018.
The results are stark: before 2000, the U.S. was at the helm of global trade, as over 80% of countries traded with the U.S. more than they did with China. By 2018, that number had dropped sharply to just 30%, as China swiftly took top position in 128 of 190 countries.
The researchers pinpoint China’s 2001 entry into the World Trade Organization as a major turning point in China’s international trade relationships. The dramatic shift that followed is clearly demonstrated in the visualization above—between 2005 and 2010, a number of countries tipped towards Chinese influence, especially in Africa and Asia.
Over time, China’s dominance has grown dramatically. It’s no wonder then, that China and the U.S. have a contentious trade relationship themselves, as both nations battle it out for first place.
A Tale of Two Economies
The United States and China are competitors in many ways, but to be successful they must rely on each other for mutually beneficial trade. However, it’s also the major issue on which they are struggling to reach a common ground.
The U.S. has been vocal about negotiating more balanced trade agreements with China. In fact, a mid-2018 poll shows that 62% of Americans consider their trade relationship with China to be unfair.
Since 2018, both parties have faced a fraught relationship, imposing major tariffs on consumer and industrial goods—and retaliations are reaching greater and greater heights:
While a delicate truce has been reached at the moment, the trade war has caused a significant drag on global growth, and the World Bank estimates it will continue to have an effect into 2021.
At the same time, China’s sphere of influence continues to grow.
One Belt, One Road, One Trade Direction?
China seems to have a finger in every pie. The nation is financing a flurry of megaprojects across Asia and Africa—but one broader initiative stands above the rest.
China’s “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) Initiative, planned for a 2049 completion, is advancing at a furious pace. In 2019 alone, Chinese companies signed contracts worth up to $128 billion to start Chinese large-scale infrastructure projects in various countries.
While building new highways and ports abroad is beneficial for Chinese financiers, OBOR is also about creating new markets and trade routes for Chinese goods in Asia. Recent research found that the OBOR program’s infrastructure expansion and logistics performance improvements led to positive effects on China’s exports.
Nevertheless, it’s clear the new infrastructure network is already transforming global trade, possibly cementing China’s position as the world’s major trading partner for years to come.
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