Chart: China's Debt Bomb
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China’s Debt Bomb: No One Really Knows the Payload [Chart]

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China's Debt Bomb [Chart]

China’s Debt Bomb [Chart]

No One Knows if its a Hand Grenade or a Nuclear Explosion

The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.

The ramp up in Chinese debt accumulation has been a leading concern of investors for years. The average total debt of emerging market economies is 175% of GDP, and skyrocketing corporate non-financial debt has launched China far beyond that number.

The real question is: by how far?

The answer is disconcerting, because nobody really knows.

If the Chinese debt bomb is detonated, the impact on markets is anybody’s guess. Kyle Bass says the losses would be 5x that of the subprime mortgage crisis, while Moody’s says the bomb will be safely disarmed by authorities far before it goes off.

In today’s chart, we look at various estimates to the size of China’s debt bomb, its payload, and what might spark the fuse.

China’s Debt Bomb: The Payload

Mckinsey came out with a widely-publicized estimate of China’s debt at the beginning of 2015. Using figures up to Q2 2014, they estimated that total Chinese debt was 282% of GDP, an increase from 158% in 2007.

Since then, various trusted organizations have come up with follow-up estimates.

On the low end, Goldman Sachs came out with an estimate in January 2016 of 216% total debt-to-GDP for 2015. (A few months later, they put out a separate report saying that total debt-to-GDP was estimated to be closer to 270% for 2016.)

On the high end, Macquarie analyst Viktor Shvets said that China’s debt was $35 trillion, or “nearly 350%” of GDP.

The truth is that it’s anybody’s guess. China’s official estimates are fairly useless, and the country has a massive and quickly evolving shadow banking sector that complicates these projections significantly.

Explosive Materials

Total debt is made up of various components, including government, corporate, banking, and household debts.

In the case of China, it is corporate debt that is particularly explosive. According to Mckinsey, the country’s corporate sector already has a higher debt-to-GDP than the United States, Canada, South Korea, or Germany, even while still being considered an “emerging market”.

S&P Global Ratings now figures that Chinese corporate debt is in the 160% range, up from 98% in 2008. The current number in the United States is a less ominous 70%.

China’s central bank is just as concerned as anyone else. Here’s what the Governor of the People’s Bank of China, Zhou Xiaochuan, had to say about a month ago:

Lending as a share of GDP, especially corporate lending as a share of GDP, is too high.

Xiaochuan also noted that a high leverage ratio is more prone to macroeconomic risk.

Defusing the Bomb

If there’s something that can ignite the fuse of China’s debt bomb, it’s non-performing loans (NPLs).

An NPL is a sum of money borrowed upon which the debtor has not made scheduled payments. They are essentially loans that are either close to defaulting, or already in default territory.

China has an official estimate for this number, and it is a benign 1.7% of debt. Unfortunately, independent researchers peg it much higher.

Bullish analysts have the number pegged in the high single-digits, while bearish analysts put the range anywhere between 15% and 21%. Even the IMF says that loans “potentially at risk” would be equal to 15.5% of total commercial lending.

If there’s a place to start defusing the bomb, this is it.

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Technology

The World’s Biggest Startups: Top Unicorns of 2021

Here are the world’s biggest startups with a valuation above $10 billion.

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World’s Biggest Startups Top Unicorns of 2021 Shareable

The World’s Biggest Startups: Top Unicorns of 2021

Many entrepreneurs start businesses around the world, but only the most successful new companies become “unicorns”—the biggest startups with a valuation above $1 billion.

Some unicorns are little-known companies making quiet but impactful strides in software, healthcare, automotive, and other fields. Others have already become well-known industry leaders, like aerospace manufacturer SpaceX and game developer and publisher Epic Games.

In total, there are more than 800 unicorn startups globally. That said, this visualization specifically hones in on the world’s decacorns (unicorns with valuations above $10 billion) as of December 2021 according to CB Insights.

Private Startups Valued at Over $10 Billion

The world’s most prominent unicorns constantly see their valuations change as they enter different rounds of funding or maturity.

In December 2021, there were 35 startups with a valuation above $10 billion, spread out across different countries and industries.

CompanyValuationCountryCategory
Bytedance$140BChinaArtificial intelligence
SpaceX$100.3BU.S.Other
Stripe$95BU.S.Fintech
Klarna$45.6BSwedenFintech
Canva$40BAustraliaInternet software & services
Instacart$39BU.S.Supply chain, logistics, & delivery
Databricks$38BU.S.Data management & analytics
Revolut$33BUKFintech
Nubank$30BBrazilFintech
Epic Games$28.7BU.S.Other
Chime$25BU.S.Fintech
FTX$25BChina (Hong Kong)Fintech
BYJU's$21BIndiaEdtech
Xiaohongshu$20BChinaE-commerce & direct-to-consumer
J&T Express$20BIndonesiaSupply chain, logistics, & delivery
Fanatics$18BU.S.E-commerce & direct-to-consumer
Yuanfudao$15.5BChinaEdtech
DJI Innovations$15BChinaHardware
SHEIN$15BChinaE-commerce & direct-to-consumer
Checkout.com$15BUKFintech
goPuff$15BU.S.E-commerce & direct-to-consumer
Plaid Technologies$13.4BU.S.Fintech
Grammarly$13BU.S.Internet software & services
Devoted Health$12.6BU.S.Health
Faire$12.4BU.S.Artificial intelligence
Brex$12.3BU.S.Fintech
SenseTime$12BChinaArtificial intelligence
Bitmain Technologies$12BChinaHardware
Biosplice Therapeutics$12BU.S.Health
JUUL Labs$12BU.S.Consumer & retail
GoodLeap$12BU.S.Internet software & services
ZongMu Technology$11.4BChinaAuto & transportation
Global Switch$11.1BUKHardware
Celonis$11BGermanyData management & analytics
Weilong$10.9BChinaConsumer & retail

Many of the most valuable startups are already giants in their fields. For example, social media company Bytedance is the developer behind video network platform Douyin and its international version, TikTok, and has amassed a valuation of $140 billion.

Financial services and payment software company Stripe jumped from a valuation of $36 billion to $95 billion over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even less universally prominent names like Swedish fintech Klarna ($45.6 billion) and Australian graphic design platform Canva ($40.0 billion) are well known within their respective fields.

But private valuations don’t last forever. Many eventually go public, like electric vehicle maker and Tesla competitor Rivian, which had a valuation of $27.6 billion before listing on the NASDAQ.

The Biggest Startups by Industries and Countries

Breaking down the world’s biggest startups by industry highlights that tech is still king in most investing circles.

More than 77% of unicorns valued above $10 billion are categorized directly in tech-related fields, primarily in financial and commerce software.

Startups Valued Above $10B By IndustryNumber
Fintech9
E-commerce & direct-to-consumer4
Artificial intelligence3
Hardware3
Internet software & services3
Consumer & retail2
Data management & analytics2
Edtech2
Health2
Other2
Supply chain, logistics, & delivery2
Auto & transportation1

And many of the unicorns categorized in non-tech fields are still technology companies at their core. In fact, Indonesia’s logistics and package delivery company J&T Express is one of the few unicorns not directly in tech, though it still uses automated sorting in its warehouses.

It was one of the few startups to come from somewhere other than the U.S. or China, which together accounted for over 70% of the 35 biggest startups. The UK (3) was the next most-frequently listed headquarters, while Australia, Brazil, Germany, India and Sweden each had one of these unicorns on the list.

With constantly fluctuating valuations and technological breakthroughs always around the corner, the next $10 billion unicorn could come from almost anywhere.

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Investor Education

Visualizing The World’s Largest Sovereign Wealth Funds

To date, only two countries have sovereign wealth funds worth over $1 trillion. Learn more about them in this infographic.

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Visualized: The World’s Largest Sovereign Wealth Funds

Did you know that some of the world’s largest investment funds are owned by national governments?

Known as sovereign wealth funds (SWF), these vehicles are often established with seed money that is generated by government-owned industries. If managed responsibly and given a long enough timeframe, an SWF can accumulate an enormous amount of assets.

In this infographic, we’ve detailed the world’s 10 largest SWFs, along with the largest mutual fund and ETF for context.

The Big Picture

Data collected from SWFI in October 2021 ranks Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (also known as the Norwegian Oil Fund) as the world’s largest SWF.

The world’s 10 largest sovereign wealth funds (with fund size benchmarks) are listed below:

CountryFund NameFund TypeAssets Under Management (AUM) 
🇳🇴 Norway Government Pension Fund Global SWF$1.3 trillion
🇺🇸 U.S.Vanguard Total Stock Market Index FundMutual fund$1.3 trillion
🇨🇳 ChinaChina Investment CorporationSWF$1.2 trillion
🇰🇼 Kuwait Kuwait Investment Authority SWF$693 billion
🇦🇪 United Arab EmiratesAbu Dhabi Investment Authority SWF$649 billion
🇭🇰 Hong Kong SARHong Kong Monetary Authority Investment PortfolioSWF$581 billion
🇸🇬 SingaporeGovernment of Singapore Investment CorporationSWF$545 billion
🇸🇬 SingaporeTemasek SWF$484 billion
🇨🇳 ChinaNational Council for Social Security Fund SWF$447 billion
🇸🇦 Saudi ArabiaPublic Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia SWF$430 billion
🇺🇸 U.S.State Street SPDR S&P 500 ETF TrustETF$391 billion
🇦🇪 United Arab EmiratesInvestment Corporation of DubaiSWF$302 billion 

SWF AUM gathered on 10/08/2021. VTSAX and SPY AUM as of 09/30/2021.

So far, just two SWFs have surpassed the $1 trillion milestone. To put this in perspective, consider that the world’s largest mutual fund, the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund (VTSAX), is a similar size, investing in U.S. large-, mid-, and small-cap equities.

The Trillion Dollar Club

The world’s two largest sovereign wealth funds have a combined $2.5 trillion in assets. Here’s a closer look at their underlying portfolios.

1. Government Pension Fund Global – $1.3 Trillion (Norway)

Norway’s SWF was established after the country discovered oil in the North Sea. The fund invests the revenue coming from this sector to safeguard the future of the national economy. Here’s a breakdown of its investments.

Asset Class% of Total AssetsCountry DiversificationNumber of Securities
Public Equities72.8%69 countries9,123 companies
Fixed income24.7%45 countries1,245 bonds
Real estate2.5%14 countries867 properties

As of 12/31/2020

Real estate may be a small part of the portfolio, but it’s an important component for diversification (real estate is less correlated to the stock market) and generating income. Here are some U.S. office towers that the fund has an ownership stake in.

AddressOwnership Stake
601 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 45.0%
475 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY49.9%
33 Arch Street, Boston, MA49.9%
100 First Street, San Francisco, CA44.0%

As of 12/31/2020

Overall, the fund has investments in 462 properties in the U.S. for a total value of $14.9 billion.

2. China Investment Corporation (CIC) – $1.2 Trillion (China)

The CIC is the largest of several Chinese SWFs, and was established to diversify the country’s foreign exchange holdings.

Compared to the Norwegian fund, the CIC invests in a greater variety of alternatives. This includes real estate, of course, but also private equity, private credit, and hedge funds.

Asset Class% of Total Assets
Public equities38%
Fixed income17%
Alternative assets43%
Cash2%

As of 12/31/2020

A primary focus of the CIC has been to increase its exposure to American infrastructure and manufacturing. By the end of 2020, 57% of the fund was invested in the United States.

“According to our estimate, the United States needs at least $8 trillion in infrastructure investments. There’s not sufficient capital from the U.S. government or private sector. It has to rely on foreign investments.”
– Ding Xuedong, Chairman, China Investment Corporation

This has drawn suspicion from U.S. regulators given the geopolitical tensions between the two countries. For further reading on the topic, consider this 2017 paper by the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Preparing for a Future Without Oil

Many of the countries associated with these SWFs are known for their robust fossil fuel industries. This includes Middle Eastern nations like Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Oil has been an incredible source of wealth for these countries, but it’s unlikely to last forever. Some analysts believe that we could even see peak oil demand before 2030—though this doesn’t mean that oil will stop being an important resource.

Regardless, oil-producing countries are looking to hedge their reliance on fossil fuels. Their SWFs play an important role by taking oil revenue and investing it to generate returns and/or bolster other sectors of the economy.

An example of this is Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which supports the country’s Vision 2030 framework by investing in clean energy and other promising sectors.

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