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Investing Megatrend: How Rapid Urbanization is Shaping the Future

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An Investing Megatrend: How Rapid Urbanization is Shaping the Future

How Rapid Urbanisation is Shaping the Future

The world is constantly changing, and many of these shifts have the potential to alter the investment landscape.

While some of these changes can be temporary and fleeting, others can be powerful, transformative “megatrends” that shape how society is organized at a fundamental level.

One such megatrend that has been in place for decades is the rapid rate of population growth in urban areas — and while it’s been highly influential thus far, we’ve likely only seen the beginning of its formative impact on the global economy.

An Intro to Rapid Urbanisation

Today’s infographic comes to us from iShares by BlackRock, and it highlights the case for rapid urbanisation as being one of the most important overarching trends to watch in markets over the long term.

It’s a trend that originated in developed economies in the 21st century, as people transitioned from agricultural work to factory and service jobs.

RegionUrban share of population (1900)Urban share of population (2016)
United States40%82%
Japan12%91%
Western Europe41%80%

In these developed economies today, cities are major sources of innovation and wealth creation, and the World Bank estimates that over 80% of global GDP is now generated in cities.

A Global Shift

Over the coming decades, the large-scale role of cities will become even more amplified as rapid urbanisation spills over to the rest of the world.

Billions of people — especially in Asia and Africa — will be seeking opportunities in cities over the coming decades. Between 2018 and 2050, the global urban population will increase from 55% to 68%, adding another 2.5 billion people to cities around the world.

RankCountryUrban population growth (2018-2050)
#1India416 million people
#2China255 million people
#3Nigeria189 million people

Nearly 90% of this growth will be in Africa and Asia, with India alone adding 416 million new people to its cities — more than any other country in the world over this timeframe.

The Dawn of the Megacity

People are not only flocking to cities, they are flocking to megacities — urban conglomerations with more than 10 million people.

In just 40 years, the total amount of megacities will quadruple, gaining nearly 600 million residents in the process:

Year# of MegacitiesPopulation% of Urban Population
199010153 million7%
201023370 million12%
203041730 million14%

With billions of new people living in urban areas – and many of them living in megacities — we will have to rethink how our cities are designed and engineered.

And as this happens, the city as we know it will be revolutionised.

The Urban Opportunity

Rapid urbanisation will create both opportunities and challenges for society, and a plethora of investment possibilities in the process.

As global cities become more integrated with technology, new business models will emerge as cities become smarter, denser, and more connected.

These potential opportunities include:

  • Smarter cities
    Cities will embrace technology to improve services and infrastructure, adding tech-driven features like smart lighting or real-time traffic updates.
  • New infrastructure
    Cities and companies will invest heavily to build next generation infrastructure, such as data centers, green energy, and citywide WiFi.
  • A focus on personal security
    With higher crime rates in cities than rural areas, governments will employ elevated levels of surveillance on citizens in cities. Increasing connectivity means that every activity is logged and monitored.
  • New services
    As cities become more connected, non-traditional players — such as cybersecurity experts or cleantech engineers — will be needed as a part of city planning processes.
  • No car ownership
    A lack of space and the rise of autonomous cars will mean fewer people will own a car, preferring to use ‘summon-able’ services instead.
  • New healthcare systems
    As population density grows to unprecedented levels, existing healthcare systems will need to be radically overhauled to deal with this influx.

Rapid urbanisation will have a wide-ranging impact on global economics, demographics, and society as a whole.

As rapid urbanisation and other megatrends collide and feed off each other, there’s no doubt that even more thematic investment opportunities will be created.

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Shapes of Recovery: When Will the Global Economy Bounce Back?

Economic recovery from COVID-19 could come in four shapes—L, U, W, and V. What do they mean, and what do global CEOs see as the most likely?

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The Shape of Economic Recovery, According to CEOs

Is the glass half full, or half empty?

Whenever the economy is put through the ringer, levels of optimism and pessimism about its potential recovery can vary greatly. The current state mid-pandemic is no exception.

This graphic first details the various shapes that economic recovery can take, and what they mean. We then dive into which of the four scenarios are perceived the most likely to occur, based on predictions made by CEOs from around the world.

The ABCs of Economic Recovery

Economic recovery comes in four distinct shapes—L, U, W, and V. Here’s what each of these are characterized by, and how long they typically last.

  • L-shape
    This scenario exhibits a sharp decline in the economy, followed by a slow recovery period. It’s often punctuated by persistent unemployment, taking several years to recoup back to previous levels.
  • U-shape
    Also referred to as the “Nike Swoosh” recovery, in this scenario the economy stagnates for a few quarters and up to two years, before experiencing a relatively healthy rise back to its previous peak.
  • W-shape
    This scenario offers a tempting promise of recovery, dips back into a sharp decline, and then finally enters the full recovery period of up to two years. This is also known as a “double-dip recession“, similar to what was seen in the early 1980s.
  • V-shape
    In this best-case scenario, the sharp decline in the economy is quickly and immediately followed by a rapid recovery back to its previous peak in less than a year, bolstered especially by economic measures and strong consumer spending.

Another scenario not covered here is the Z-shape, defined by a boom after pent-up demand. However, it doesn’t quite make the cut for the present pandemic situation, as it’s considered even more optimistic than a V-shaped recovery.

Depending on who you ask, the sentiments about a post-pandemic recovery differ greatly. So which of these potential scenarios are we really dealing with?

How CEOs Think The Economy Could Recover

The think tank The Conference Board surveyed over 600 CEOs worldwide, to uncover how they feel about the likelihood of each recovery shape playing out in the near future.

The average CEO felt that economic recovery will follow a U-shaped trajectory (42%), eventually exhibiting a slow recovery coming out of Q3 of 2020—a moderately optimistic view.

However, geography seems to play a part in these CEO estimates of how rapidly things might revert back to “normal”. Over half of European CEOs (55%) project a U-shaped recovery, which is significantly higher than the global average. This could be because recent COVID-19 hotspots have mostly shifted to other areas outside of the continent, such as the U.S., India, and Brazil.

Here’s how responses vary by region:

RegionL-shapeU-shapeW-shapeV-shape
Global (N=606)32%42%16%11%
U.S. (N=103)26%42%23%9%
Europe (N=110)29%55%12%4%
China (N=122)25%43%11%21%
Japan (N=95)49%26%23%1%
Gulf Region (N=16)57%26%17%-

In the U.S. and Japan, 23% of CEOs expect a second contraction to occur, meaning that economic activity could undergo a W-shape recovery. Both countries have experienced quite the hit, but there are stark differences in their resultant unemployment rates—15% at its peak in the U.S., but a mere 2.6% in Japan.

In China, 21% of CEOs—or one in five—anticipate a quick, V-shaped recovery. This is the most optimistic outlook of any region, and with good reason. Although economic growth contracted by 6.8% in the first quarter, China has bounced back to a 3.2% growth rate in the second quarter.

Finally, Gulf Region CEOs feel the most pessimistic about potential economic recovery. In the face of an oil shock, 57% predict the economy will see an L-shaped recovery that could result in depression-style stagnation in years to come.

The Economic Recovery, According to Risk Analysts

At the end of the day, CEO opinions are all over the map on the potential shape of the economic recovery—and this variance likely stems from geography, cultural biases, and of course the status of their own individual countries and industries.

Despite this, portions of all cohorts saw some possibility of an extended and drawn-out recovery. Earlier in the year, risk analysts surveyed by the World Economic Forum had similar thoughts, projecting a prolonged recession as the top risk of the post-COVID fallout.

It remains to be seen whether this will ultimately indeed be the trajectory we’re in store for.

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The $88 Trillion World Economy in One Chart

The world’s total GDP crested $88 trillion in 2019—but how are the current COVID-19 economic contractions affecting its future outlook?

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The $88 Trillion World Economy in One Chart

The global economy can seem like an abstract concept, yet it influences our everyday lives in both obvious and subtle ways. Nowhere is this clearer than in the current economic state amid the throes of the pandemic.

This voronoi-style visualization from HowMuch relies on gross domestic product (GDP) data from the World Bank to paint a picture of the global economy—which crested $87.8 trillion in 2019.

Editor’s note: Annual data on economic output is a lagging indicator, and is released the following year by organizations such as the World Bank. The figures in this diagram provide a snapshot of the global economy in 2019, but do not necessarily represent the impact of recent developments such as COVID-19.

Top 10 Countries by GDP (2019)

In the one-year period since the last release of official data in 2018, the global economy grew approximately $2 trillion in size—or about 2.3%.

The United States continues to have the top GDP, accounting for nearly one-quarter of the world economy. China also continued to grow its share of global GDP, going from 15.9% to 16.3%.

RankCountryGDP% of Global GDP
#1🇺🇸 U.S.$21.4T24.4%
#2🇨🇳 China$14.3T16.3%
#3🇯🇵 Japan$5.1T5.8%
#4🇩🇪 Germany$3.9T4.4%
#5🇮🇳 India$2.9T3.3%
#6🇬🇧 UK$2.8T3.2%
#7🇫🇷 France$2.7T3.1%
#8🇮🇹 Italy$2.0T2.3%
#9🇧🇷 Brazil$1.8T2.1%
#10🇨🇦 Canada$1.7T2.0%
Top 10 Countries$58.7 trillion66.9%

In recent years, the Indian economy has continued to have an upward trajectory—now pulling ahead of both the UK and France—to become one of the world’s top five economies.

In aggregate, these top 10 countries combine for over two-thirds of total global GDP.

2020 Economic Contractions

So far this year, multiple countries have experienced temporary economic contractions, including many of the top 10 countries listed above.

The following interactive chart from Our World in Data helps to give us some perspective on this turbulence, comparing Q2 economic figures against those from the same quarter last year.

One of the hardest hit economies has been Peru. The Latin American country, which is about the 50th largest in terms of GDP globally, saw its economy contract by 30.2% in Q2 despite efforts to curb the virus early.

Spain and the UK are also feeling the impact, posting quarterly GDP numbers that are 22.1% and 21.7% smaller respectively.

Meanwhile, Taiwan and South Korea are two countries that may have done the best at weathering the COVID-19 storm. Both saw minuscule contractions in a quarter where the global economy seemed to grind to a halt.

Projections Going Forward

According to the World Bank, the global economy could ultimately shrink 5.2% in 2020—the deepest cut since WWII.

See below for World Bank projections on GDP in 2020 for when the dust settles, as well as the subsequent potential for recovery in 2021.

Country/ Region / Economy Type2020 Growth Projection2021E Rebound Forecast
United States-6.1%4.0%
Euro Area-9.1%4.5%
Advanced economies-7.0%3.9%
Emerging economies-2.5%4.6%
East Asia and Pacific-0.5%6.6%
Europe and Central Asia-4.7%3.6%
Latin America and the Caribbean-7.2%2.8%
Middle East and North Africa-4.2%2.3%
South Asia-2.7%2.8%
Sub-Saharan Africa-2.8%3.1%
Global Growth-5.2%4.2%

Source: World Bank Global Economic Prospects, released June 2020

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