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A Short History of U.S. Trade Wars

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A Short History of U.S. Trade Wars

Infographic: A Short History of U.S. Trade Wars

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

History is full of trade wars.

In the majority of cases, the consequences are mostly economic – trade barriers are enacted, and then retaliatory measures are used to counter. Relations can continue to escalate until an understanding can be reached by both parties.

In the minority of cases, trade wars can lead to world-changing consequences.

You may remember that the Boston Tea Party of 1773 was a bold response to an unfair trade measure imposed by a ruling power, and it proved to be a key catalyst that led to the American Revolution.

Meanwhile, the Opium Wars occurred after the Qing Dynasty (China) tried to prevent British merchants from selling opium to the Chinese in the 1830s. These trade barriers led to armed conflicts, and effectively put the nail in the coffin of the Qing Dyasty – the start of China’s infamous “century of humiliation”.

U.S. Trade Wars

Today’s chart pulls together details on some of the biggest trade conflicts in modern U.S. history.

Here are some of the more interesting U.S. trade wars, and how they compare to the current spat that is evolving with major trade partners:

1. Smoot-Hawley, 1930
Imposed during The Great Depression, the Smoot-Hawley Act is almost universally recognized by economists and economic historians as triggering a trade war that exacerbated the recovery.

2. Chicken Friction, 1963
Factory farming of chicken in the U.S. ended up catching European farmers off guard. French and German authorities responded by imposing tariffs, and the U.S. then taxed imports such as trucks and brandy.

3. Jabs at Japan, 1981
Japan’s mid-century rise led to the country becoming an export powerhouse. As Japanese cars flooded the U.S. market, intense pressure eventually led to the signing of a Voluntary Export Restraint (VER) agreement that limited sales in the United States. During this same timeframe, the two countries also squabbled about other goods like electronics, motorcycles, and semiconductors.

4. War of the Woods, 1982
The Canada-U.S. Softwood Lumber dispute kicked off in 1982, but it inevitably resurfaces in the news every few years.

5. Pasta Spat, 1985
The U.S. was displeased with the level of access for citrus products in Europe, and put a tariff on pasta products. Europe retaliated by taxing walnuts and lemons from the States.

6. Battle of the Bananas, 1993
Another agricultural trade war, the Battle of the Bananas occurred after Europe slapped tariffs on the import of Latin American bananas. Many of these companies, owned by Americans, were not impressed. In response, there were eight separate complaints filed to the World Trade Organization (WTO). They weren’t resolved until 2012.

7. Steel Salvoes, 2002
These were the last major U.S. steel tariffs introduced before the more recent ones. The goal was similar: to revive the steel industry in the country. However, after a period of brief stability, jobs continued to decline. The European Union responded by taxing oranges exported from Florida.

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Chart of the Week

Visualizing the Biggest Risks to the Global Economy in 2020

The Global Risk Report 2020 paints an unprecedented risk landscape for 2020—one dominated by climate change and other environmental concerns.

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Top Risks in 2020: Dominated by Environmental Factors

Environmental concerns are a frequent talking point drawn upon by politicians and scientists alike, and for good reason. Irrespective of economic or social status, climate change has the potential to affect us all.

While public urgency surrounding climate action has been growing, it can be difficult to comprehend the potential extent of economic disruption that environmental risks pose.

Front and Center

Today’s chart uses data from the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Risks Report, which surveyed 800 leaders from business, government, and non-profits to showcase the most prominent economic risks the world faces.

According to the data in the report, here are the top five risks to the global economy, in terms of their likelihood and potential impact:

Top Global Risks (by "Likelihood") Top Global Risks (by "Impact")
#1Extreme weather#1Climate action failure
#2Climate action failure#2Weapons of mass destruction
#3Natural disasters#3Biodiversity loss
#4Biodiversity loss#4Extreme weather
#5Humanmade environmental disasters#5Water crises

With more emphasis being placed on environmental risks, how much do we need to worry?

According to the World Economic Forum, more than we can imagine. The report asserts that, among many other things, natural disasters are becoming more intense and more frequent.

While it can be difficult to extrapolate precisely how environmental risks could cascade into trouble for the global economy and financial system, here are some interesting examples of how they are already affecting institutional investors and the insurance industry.

The Stranded Assets Dilemma

If the world is to stick to its 2°C global warming threshold, as outlined in the Paris Agreement, a significant amount of oil, gas, and coal reserves would need to be left untouched. These assets would become “stranded”, forfeiting roughly $1-4 trillion from the world economy.

Growing awareness of this risk has led to a change in sentiment. Many institutional investors have become wary of their portfolio exposures, and in some cases, have begun divesting from the sector entirely.

The financial case for fossil fuel divestment is strong. Fossil fuel companies once led the economy and world stock markets. They now lag.

– Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis

The last couple of years have been a game-changer for the industry’s future prospects. For example, 2018 was a milestone year in fossil fuel divestment:

  • Nearly 1,000 institutional investors representing $6.24 trillion in assets have pledged to divest from fossil fuels, up from just $52 billion four years ago;
  • Ireland became the first country to commit to fossil fuel divestment. At the time of announcement, its sovereign development fund had $10.4 billion in assets;
  • New York City became the largest (but not the first) city to commit to fossil fuel divestment. Its pension funds, totaling $189 billion at the time of announcement, aim to divest over a 5-year period.

A Tough Road Ahead

In a recent survey, actuaries ranked climate change as their top risk for 2019, ahead of damages from cyberattacks, financial instability, and terrorism—drawing strong parallels with the results of this year’s Global Risk Report.

These growing concerns are well-founded. 2017 was the costliest year on record for natural disasters, with $344 billion in global economic losses. This daunting figure translated to a record year for insured losses, totalling $140 billion.

Although insured losses over 2019 have fallen back in line with the average over the past 10 years, Munich RE believes that long-term environmental effects are already being felt:

  • Recent studies have shown that over the long term, the environmental conditions for bushfires in Australia have become more favorable;
  • Despite a decrease in U.S. wildfire losses compared to previous years, there is a rising long-term trend for forest area burned in the U.S.;
  • An increase in hailstorms, as a result of climate change, has been shown to contribute to growing losses across the globe.

The Ball Is In Our Court

It’s clear that the environmental issues we face are beginning to have a larger real impact. Despite growing awareness and preliminary actions such as fossil fuel divestment, the Global Risk Report stresses that there is much more work to be done to mitigate risks.

How companies and governments choose to respond over the next decade will be a focal point of many discussions to come.

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Chart of the Week

The Sum of Its Parts: The Smartphone Multiplier Market

Every day, 3.3 billion people rely on their smartphones to stay connected. The products and services enabling this—the smartphone multiplier market—is now worth $459 billion.

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The Sum of Its Parts: The Smartphone Multiplier Market

There’s a 60% chance you’re reading this article on a smartphone right now—a testament to how ubiquitous these devices have truly become in our lives.

We rely on smartphones every waking minute to stay connected. However, the various products and services—also known as the smartphone multiplier market—that allow us to use these devices in the first place can often be an afterthought.

Today’s chart uses data from Deloitte Insights to show just how sizable this ecosystem is becoming, and why it’s heating up as a battleground for big technology companies such as Apple, Alphabet, and Amazon.

The Smartphone Plateau

There are over 3.3 billion smartphone users in the world today.

The smartphone economy—estimated to pull in $944 billion in total revenue in 2020—is so massive that it rivals the GDP of countries like Indonesia and the Netherlands.

At the moment, the smartphones themselves contribute over half the market value. Despite the continued hype surrounding the release of new models, global unit shipments of smartphone devices appears to have reached a saturation point:

Smartphone Sales

There are two theories as to why shipments are leveling off. First, product innovation is more iterative today than in the past, which means there are fewer groundbreaking features to entice consumers into purchasing new devices. A second factor is that people are simply holding onto their devices for longer than in the past.

As device sales plateau, tech giants are diversifying efforts to find new ways to lure customers back in—and another related market is growing more lucrative as a result.

What is a “Smartphone Multiplier”?

When people think of the smartphone market, hardware likely springs to mind first, but an equally important part of the equation is the plethora of apps, services, accessories, and complementary devices that help us connect with the digital world.

The ecosystem of these products and services are known as smartphone multipliers. According to Deloitte, this ecosystem will drive $459 billion of revenues in 2020, an impressive 15% increase from the prior year.

The market can be broken down into three main categories:

CategoryMarket Value (2020e)Sub-categories
Content$312B
(68% of total)
$176B: Mobile ads
$118B: Apps
$10B: Music
$8B: Video
Hardware$111B
(24% of total)
$77B: Accessories
$25B: Wearables
$9B: Smart speakers
Services$37B
(8% of total)
$18B: Insurance
$12B: Repairs
$4B: Others
$3B: Storage

Largely driven by mobile advertising and app sales, content is by far the largest subcategory, accounting for 68% of revenues:

  • Mobile advertising surpassed TV as the largest advertising channel in 2019, partially thanks to the relentless growth of online video and social media, making ads virtually unavoidable on a smartphone.
  • Gaming apps are benefiting from the immense processing power of today’s smartphones—and will bring in over two-thirds of total app revenue in 2020. Apple’s app store brought in approximately $1.8 billion in sales between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day alone.
    • If you’ve ever owned a pair of headphones or a powerbank, it’s easy to understand why accessories are the third-largest subcategory in the smartphone multiplier market. With more people ditching the cable for wireless headphones, this subcategory is also set to grow even more.

      The Next $1T Economy?

      In the U.S., 73% of adults go online several times a day or almost constantly, which makes it clear that they aren’t going to give up their smartphones anytime soon.

      As a result, smartphone multipliers will continue to evolve and flourish, presenting a unique opportunity for investors and businesses.

      Altogether, it’s expected that the smartphone multiplier market will grow between 5 and 10% annually through 2023, likely propelling the entire smartphone economy past the $1 trillion benchmark in the coming years.

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