Visualizing the Shape of Cities and Economies
The Industrial Revolution changed the form and function of cities. New patterns of work resulted in massive wealth and distinct advantages for certain regions. Urbanization emerged as a defining characteristic of this age.
During the latter part of the Industrial Revolution, Cambridge School economist Alfred Marshall looked at a particular question: why did certain industries concentrate in specific places?
Marshall argued that the local concentration of industry created powerful economies promoting technical dynamism and innovation.
This Chart of the Week highlights the spatial patterns and business relationships created at the urban scale. Marshall’s insights from the past help us understand present-day tech and media economies and the massive growth of urban regions.
The Logic of Concentration
Marshall observed that industrial concentration led to long-term tendencies such as increasing returns on capital and compounding regional advantages.
The heart of this observation is that knowledge resides within the companies that make up a particular industry. Over time, these companies can accumulate even more information and direct the flow of new and innovative ideas. This creates local specialization and increasing profits, while also concentrating success, knowledge, and wealth into one key locale.
He defined this pattern as a Marshallian Industrial District.
An Evolving Landscape: Four Patterns
Marshall’s work would later influence the work of Ann Markusen, who created a typology of three additional industrial patterns. The patterns identify what makes a city attractive or repellent to income-generating activities.
|Marshallian Industrial District||This is a clustering of firms in a similar industry, operating within a certain geographic area.||Social media marketing companies in San Francisco|
|Satellite Platform District||A set of unconnected branches with links beyond regional boundaries, each part of its own globally oriented supply chain.||Suburban neighborhoods|
|Hub and Spoke District||An industrial sector with suppliers clustering around one, or several, dominant firms.||Airplane manufacturer Boeing and the region of Seattle.|
|State-anchored District||Industrial activities are anchored to a region by a public or non-profit entity, such as a military base, a university, or a concentration of public laboratories or government offices.||Madison, WI and Columbus, OH are examples of university towns, as are many cities with large defense installations such as Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.|
There are both benefits and problems—called “externalities”—associated with the spatial agglomeration of physical capital, companies, consumers, and workers:
Clusters for a Digital Age
In the past, the physical constraints of an area defined the structure of cities. Now that so many companies are free from the shackles of producing physical goods, does geography still matter?
Researcher Marlen Komorowski re-examined the concept of clustering with this question in mind. Here are five types of media clusters identified in her research.
|The Creative Region||A metropolitan region that provides advantages due to readily available infrastructures and institutions, and encourages the development of face-to-face interaction and collaboration networks.||Berlin, Singapore, Amsterdam|
|The Giant Anchor||A location defined by the activities of one or several large media institutions, which attract complementary firms to agglomerate. Similar to the hub-and-spoke cluster model.||Seattle, (Microsoft, Amazon), and Cambridge (Harvard, MIT)|
|The Specialized Area||A media cluster that is located either in a neighborhood within a big metropolitan area or in a small urbanized area. The Specialized Area is marked by a readily available, large pool of employees from a specialized field.||Soho (London), Silicon Valley|
|The Attracting Enabler||Determined by the location of certain facilities or resources that can be shared that enable media activities. Movie studios are a prime example.||Los Angeles, Vancouver|
|The Real Estate||This type of cluster is centered around office space, sometimes purpose-built for media and creative companies. This space can also include incubators / accelerators.||Dubai Media City, Dublin’s Digital Hub|
Four rationales drive these patterns: agglomeration, urbanization, localization economies. and artificial formation.
The Shadow of the Industrial Revolution
Alfred Marshall made the argument that local concentration of industry can offer powerful economies and technical dynamism and innovation.
We now see this pattern with the emergence of megacities that accrue the majority of the financial and knowledge returns. These megaregions set the perfect stage for dynamic economic exchanges between skilled labor, technology, and networks.
What does your city look like?
Recession Risk: Which Sectors are Least Vulnerable?
We show the sectors with the lowest exposure to recession risk—and the factors that drive their performance.
Recession Risk: Which Sectors are Least Vulnerable?
In the context of a potential recession, some sectors may be in better shape than others.
They share several fundamental qualities, including:
- Less cyclical exposure
- Lower rate sensitivity
- Higher cash levels
- Lower capital expenditures
With this in mind, the above chart looks at the sectors most resilient to recession risk and rising costs, using data from Allianz Trade.
Recession Risk, by Sector
As slower growth and rising rates put pressure on corporate margins and the cost of capital, we can see in the table below that this has impacted some sectors more than others in the last year:
|Sector||Margin (p.p. change)
|🏡 Household Equipment||-0.9|
|🚗 Automotive Manufacturers||-1.1|
|🏭 Machinery & Equipment||-1.1|
|🖥️ Computers & Telecom||-2.0|
*Percentage point changes 2021- 2022.
Generally speaking, the retail sector has been shielded from recession risk and higher prices. In 2023, accelerated consumer spending and a strong labor market has supported retail sales, which have trended higher since 2021. Consumer spending makes up roughly two-thirds of the U.S. economy.
Sectors including chemicals and pharmaceuticals have traditionally been more resistant to market turbulence, but have fared worse than others more recently.
In theory, sectors including construction, metals, and automotives are often rate-sensitive and have high capital expenditures. Yet, what we have seen in the last year is that many of these sectors have been able to withstand margin pressures fairly well in spite of tightening credit conditions as seen in the table above.
What to Watch: Corporate Margins in Perspective
One salient feature of the current market environment is that corporate profit margins have approached historic highs.
As the above chart shows, after-tax profit margins for non-financial corporations hovered over 14% in 2022, the highest post-WWII. In fact, this trend has been increasing over the past two decades.
According to a recent paper, firms have used their market power to increase prices. As a result, this offset margin pressures, even as sales volume declined.
Overall, we can see that corporate profit margins are higher than pre-pandemic levels. Sectors focused on essential goods to the consumer were able to make price hikes as consumers purchased familiar brands and products.
Adding to stronger margins were demand shocks that stemmed from supply chain disruptions. The auto sector, for example, saw companies raise prices without the fear of diminishing market share. All of these factors have likely built up a buffer to help reduce future recession risk.
Sector Fundamentals Looking Ahead
How are corporate metrics looking in 2023?
In the first quarter of 2023, S&P 500 earnings fell almost 4%. It was the second consecutive quarter of declining earnings for the index. Despite slower growth, the S&P 500 is up roughly 15% from lows seen in October.
Yet according to an April survey from the Bank of America, global fund managers are overwhelmingly bearish, highlighting contradictions in the market.
For health care and utilities sectors, the vast majority of companies in the index are beating revenue estimates in 2023. Over the last 30 years, these defensive sectors have also tended to outperform other sectors during a downturn, along with consumer staples. Investors seek them out due to their strong balance sheets and profitability during market stress.
|S&P 500 Sector||Percent of Companies With Revenues Above Estimates (Q1 2023)|
|Real Estate ||81%|
Cyclical sectors, such as financials and industrials tend to perform worse. We can see this today with turmoil in the banking system, as bank stocks remain sensitive to interest rate hikes. Making matters worse, the spillover from rising rates may still take time to materialize.
Defensive sectors like health care, staples, and utilities could be less vulnerable to recession risk. Lower correlation to economic cycles, lower rate-sensitivity, higher cash buffers, and lower capital expenditures are all key factors that support their resilience.
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