Japan Officially Gets Leapfrogged by the Four Asian Tigers
Throughout the decades in the 1950s and 1960s, the Japanese economy was envied for its unrelenting growth.
Dubbed the “Post-War Miracle”, this period of time saw Japan become a global center of manufacturing and exports. Japanese brands such as Toyota, Sony, Honda, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, and Canon would become household names worldwide. By the 1960s, Japan catapulted to become the second largest economy in the world.
Today, Japan has the third largest economy in terms of total nominal GDP, and the fourth largest by GDP adjusted for Purchasing Power Parity (PPP). This doesn’t seem so bad on paper, but Japan also has nearly 130 million people.
What do those amounts look like per capita? It turns out to be not so good.
After over two decades of economic stagnation, the most recent GDP per capita (PPP) numbers for 2014 by the IMF had the Japanese economy in 29th place globally. As you saw in the opening chart, even more recent projections from another source show that all four Asian Tigers have now all officially leapfrogged Japan in terms of GDP per capita (PPP).
The “Four Asian Tigers”, a term used to reference the highly free-market and developed economies of Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan, have continued to grow despite Japan’s struggles. Singapore, a significant Asian banking center, passed Japan in GDP per capita (PPP) back in 1979. Hong Kong would be the next to do so in 1993, and Taiwan would jump ahead during the Financial Crisis. The last of the leapfrogging happened when South Korea passed Japan this year.
This shouldn’t be too surprising, as the struggles of Japan over the last 25 years have been well-documented. However, a point of interest may be the context of how these challenges began.
In the mid-80s, the yen had basically doubled in value against the dollar. For a manufacturing and exporting nation (similar to how China is today), this was less than ideal. While this was happening, the Bank of Japan intervened with five sessions of monetary easing starting in January 1986 to weaken the yen, cutting interest rates from 5.0% to 2.5% in just one year.
During this time, monetary growth was much quicker than anticipated. More-than-sufficient liquidity and ultra low interest rates fueled speculation, which helped lead to inflate a classic asset bubble. In the early 90s, the BOJ hiked rates to counter speculation and curb inflation.
The asset bubble popped, and Japan’s economy would be sent into the “Lost Decade” – a “decade” which has lasted 25 years.
You can see the drastic increase in money supply leading up to the crisis here:
Japan now has the world’s highest debt-to-GDP ratio of 243% as well as the world’s highest debt-to-revenue ratio.
Despite this, they’ve started an even more potentially dangerous experiment known as Abenomics, which is the three-headed beast of unprecedented quantitative easing, monetary stimulus, and reforms.
The World’s Biggest Startups: Top Unicorns of 2021
Here are the world’s biggest startups with a valuation above $10 billion.
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.
|Canva||$40B||Australia||Internet software & services|
|Instacart||$39B||U.S.||Supply chain, logistics, & delivery|
|Databricks||$38B||U.S.||Data management & analytics|
|FTX||$25B||China (Hong Kong)||Fintech|
|Xiaohongshu||$20B||China||E-commerce & direct-to-consumer|
|J&T Express||$20B||Indonesia||Supply chain, logistics, & delivery|
|Fanatics||$18B||U.S.||E-commerce & direct-to-consumer|
|SHEIN||$15B||China||E-commerce & direct-to-consumer|
|goPuff||$15B||U.S.||E-commerce & direct-to-consumer|
|Grammarly||$13B||U.S.||Internet software & services|
|JUUL Labs||$12B||U.S.||Consumer & retail|
|GoodLeap||$12B||U.S.||Internet software & services|
|ZongMu Technology||$11.4B||China||Auto & transportation|
|Celonis||$11B||Germany||Data management & analytics|
|Weilong||$10.9B||China||Consumer & 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 Industry||Number|
|E-commerce & direct-to-consumer||4|
|Internet software & services||3|
|Consumer & retail||2|
|Data management & analytics||2|
|Supply chain, logistics, & delivery||2|
|Auto & transportation||1|
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.
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.
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:
|Country||Fund Name||Fund Type||Assets Under Management (AUM)|
|🇳🇴 Norway||Government Pension Fund Global||SWF||$1.3 trillion|
|🇺🇸 U.S.||Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund||Mutual fund||$1.3 trillion|
|🇨🇳 China||China Investment Corporation||SWF||$1.2 trillion|
|🇰🇼 Kuwait||Kuwait Investment Authority||SWF||$693 billion|
|🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates||Abu Dhabi Investment Authority||SWF||$649 billion|
|🇭🇰 Hong Kong SAR||Hong Kong Monetary Authority Investment Portfolio||SWF||$581 billion|
|🇸🇬 Singapore||Government of Singapore Investment Corporation||SWF||$545 billion|
|🇸🇬 Singapore||Temasek||SWF||$484 billion|
|🇨🇳 China||National Council for Social Security Fund||SWF||$447 billion|
|🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia||SWF||$430 billion|
|🇺🇸 U.S.||State Street SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust||ETF||$391 billion|
|🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates||Investment Corporation of Dubai||SWF||$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 Assets||Country Diversification||Number of Securities|
|Public Equities||72.8%||69 countries||9,123 companies|
|Fixed income||24.7%||45 countries||1,245 bonds|
|Real estate||2.5%||14 countries||867 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.
|601 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY||45.0%|
|475 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY||49.9%|
|33 Arch Street, Boston, MA||49.9%|
|100 First Street, San Francisco, CA||44.0%|
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|
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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