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Chart of the Week

Junk Bonds Finally Capitulate to Lower Oil Price Environment [Chart]

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Junk Bonds Finally Capitulate to Lower Oil Price Environment [Chart]

Junk Bonds Finally Capitulate to Lower Oil Price Environment [Chart]

High-yield bond ETFs are down double-digits since the summer.

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

Over the month of December, the market for high-yield bonds (also known as junk bonds) had a mini-meltdown that’s raised some eyebrows.

Junk bonds, which are non-investment grade debt instruments that are issued by companies with poor credit ratings, are both high-risk and high-reward. If the companies don’t default on their payments, the bonds pay a nice premium to the investor. In fact, the risk and return on junk bonds is generally comparable with that of stocks.

However, sometimes these companies can and will default on their debt obligations, and here’s where the risk comes in. This time, it is the energy sector that is the culprit.

When low oil prices hit last year, many fringe oil and gas producers believed that it would be possible to wait out the market for better prices. Some of these companies even issued risky junk bonds to raise capital to sustain operations until better times.

The recent action in oil and commodity markets have made it clear that oil prices could be low for a long time. Now, these fringe shale producers that have been holding on for better times may get a different type of medicine.

Standard & Poor’s recently warned that a stunning 50% of energy junk bonds are “distressed,” meaning they are at risk of default. That’s about a total of $180 billion distressed debt, which is the highest level since the Financial Crisis.

Investors began pulling money out of the credit markets fast. Last week, investors pulled a record $5.1 billion out of mutual funds and ETFs investing in junk bonds. Investment-grade bond and junk bond yields are now at their highest since 2012.

On top of that, several funds announced they would be locking out investors from withdrawing their funds. Third Avenue has blocked investors from retrieving money from its credit fund, Stone Lion suspended redemptions in its credit hedge funds, and Lucidus Capital Partners liquidated its holdings to try and get money back to investors.

What does this mean for ordinary investors?

Jeffrey Gundlach, the “Bond King”, talked about this in his latest presentation for DoubleLine Capital:

I’m sure many people on the call have never seen the Fed raise rates. And I’ve got a simple message for you: It’s a different world when the Fed is raising interest rates. Everybody needs to unwind trades at the same time, and it is a completely different environment for the market.

In 2016 we will be sailing into some uncharted territory.

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Chart of the Week

Which Countries Have the Most Wealth Per Capita?

How do the rankings of the world’s most affluent countries change when using different metrics to measure wealth per capita?

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Which Countries Have the Most Wealth Per Capita?

Our animated chart this week uses data from the ninth Credit Suisse Global Wealth report, which ranks countries by average wealth, calculated as gross assets per adult citizen.

While using such a metric certainly gives a quick snapshot of wealth per capita, it doesn’t necessarily show the complete picture.

Some argue, for example, that calculating the mean doesn’t factor in the gap between the richest and poorest in a population—also known as wealth inequality. For this reason, we’ve compared this number to median wealth for each country, providing a separate angle on which countries really have the most wealth per capita.

Mean or Median: Which Makes More Sense?

Below, we’ve visualized a hypothetical example of two groups of people, each earning various sums of money, to show how average (mean) and median calculations make a difference.

Mean vs Median Comparison

What can we observe in both datasets?

  • Total wealth: $2,000
  • Total people: 15 people
  • Average wealth: $2,000 ÷ 15 = $133

However, that’s where the similarities end. In the first group, wealth is distributed more evenly, with the disparity between the lowest-paid and highest-paid being $300. The median wealth for this group reaches $100, which is close to the average value. In the second group, this gap climbs to $495, and the median wealth drops sharply to only $30.

Scaling up this example to the true wealth of nations, we can see how the median wealth provides a more accurate picture of the typical adult, especially in societies that are less equal.

Let’s see how this shakes out when ranking the world’s most affluent countries.

Ranking Top Contenders on Wealth per Capita

When it comes to wealth per capita, it’s clear that Australia and Switzerland lead the pack. In fact, the data shows that both nations top the lists for both mean and median wealth.

However, both nations also have the highest absolute household debt-to-GDP ratios in the world: in 2018, Switzerland’s levels reached nearly 129%, while Australia followed behind at 120%.

Here is a full ranking of the top 20 countries by mean and median wealth:

RankCountryMean wealth per adultCountryMedian wealth per adult
#1🇨🇭 Switzerland$530,244🇦🇺 Australia$191,453
#2🇦🇺 Australia$411,060🇨🇭 Switzerland$183,339
#3🇺🇸 United States$403,974🇧🇪 Belgium$163,429
#4🇧🇪 Belgium$313,045🇳🇱 Netherlands$114,935
#5🇳🇴 Norway$291,103🇫🇷 France$106,827
#6🇳🇿 New Zealand$289,798🇨🇦 Canada$106,342
#7🇨🇦 Canada$288,263🇯🇵 Japan$103,861
#8🇩🇰 Denmark$286,712🇳🇿 New Zealand$98,613
#9🇸🇬 Singapore$283,118🇬🇧 United Kingdom$97,169
#10🇫🇷 France$280,580🇸🇬 Singapore$91,656
#11🇬🇧 United Kingdom$279,048🇪🇸 Spain$87,188
#12🇳🇱 Netherlands$253,205🇳🇴 Norway$80,054
#13🇸🇪 Sweden$249,765🇮🇹 Italy$79,239
#14🇭🇰 Hong Kong$244,672🇹🇼 Taiwan$78,177
#15🇮🇪 Ireland$232,952🇮🇪 Ireland$72,473
#16🇦🇹 Austria$231,368🇦🇹 Austria$70,074
#17🇯🇵 Japan$227,235🇰🇷 South Korea$65,463
#18🇮🇹 Italy$217,727🇺🇸 United States$61,667
#19🇩🇪 Germany$214,893🇩🇰 Denmark$60,999
#20🇹🇼 Taiwan$212,375🇭🇰 Hong Kong$58,905

The United States boasts 41% of the world’s millionaires, but it’s clear that the fruits of labor are enjoyed by only a select group—average wealth ($403,974) is almost seven times higher than median wealth ($61,667). This growing inequality gap knocks the country down to 18th place for median wealth.

The Nordic countries of Norway and Denmark can be found in the top ten for average wealth, but they drop to 12th place ($80,054) and 19th place ($60,999) respectively for median wealth. Despite this difference, these countries also provide a strong safety net—including access to healthcare and education—to more vulnerable citizens.

Finally, wealth in Japan is fairly evenly distributed among its large middle class, which lands it in seventh place on the median wealth list at $103,861. One possible reason is that the pay gap ratio between Japanese CEOs and the average worker is much lower than other developed nations.

With reducing income inequality as a priority for many countries around the world, how might this list change in coming years?

Footnote: All data estimates are using mid-2018 values, and reflected in US$.

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Chart of the Week

Mapped: The World’s Oldest Democracies

This map shows the 25 oldest democracies in the world, based on how long current democratic governments have been in continuous power.

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Mapped: The World’s Oldest Democracies

Which country today is the world’s oldest democracy?

It’s a loaded question ⁠— as you’ll see, there is plenty of nuance involved in the answer.

Depending on how you define things, there are many jurisdictions that can lay claim to this coveted title. Let’s dive into some of these technicalities, and then we can provide context for how we’ve defined democracy in today’s particular chart.

Laying the Claim

If you’re looking for the very first instance of democracy, credit is often attributed to Ancient Athens. It’s there the term originated, based on the Greek words demos (“common people”) and kratos (“strength”). In the 6th century BC, the city-state allowed all landowners to speak at the legislative assembly, blazing a path that would be followed by democracies in the future.

However, Ancient Athens wasn’t really a country in the modern sense. It’s also not around anymore, so that certainly disqualifies the oldest continuous democratic country today.

Iceland and the Isle of Man both have interesting claims to democracy. Each has a parliamentary body that is over 1,000 years old, making them the longest standing democratic institutions in the world. But Iceland only got its independence in 1944 from Denmark — and while it is self-governing, the Isle of Man is not a country.

Of course, when we’re talking about democracy today, we’re really talking about universal suffrage. New Zealand may have the best claim here — by 1893, the self-governing colony allowed all women and ethnicities to vote in elections.

A Common Set of Criteria

While many civilizations, institutions, and societies have a rightful claim to contributing to democracy (including many we did not mention above), measuring the world’s oldest democracies today requires following a common set of criteria.

In today’s chart, we used data from Boix, C., Miller, M., & Rosato, S. (2013, 2018), which looks at the age of democratic regimes for 219 countries since the year 1800. Countries are classified as democracies if they meet the following conditions:

  1. Executive:
    The executive is directly or indirectly elected in popular elections and is responsible either directly to voters or to a legislature.
  2. Legislature:
    The legislature (or the executive if elected directly) is chosen in free and fair elections.
  3. Voting:
    A majority of adult men has the right to vote.
  4. Democracies also have to be continuous in order to count. Although France has important democratic origins, the country is currently on its fifth republic since the French Revolution, thanks to Napoleon, Vichy France, and other instances where things went sideways.

    While the above criteria isn’t perfect, it does create a stable playing field to assess when countries adopted democratic systems in principle. (However, the exclusion of certain populations, notably women and specific ethnicities, in being given the right to vote, or to be elected to legislative assemblies, is another story).

    The Oldest Democracies, by Number of Years

    Using the above criteria, here is a list of the world’s 25 oldest democracies:

    RankCountryAge of Democracy (Years)
    #1🇺🇸 United States219*
    #2🇨🇭 Switzerland171
    #3🇳🇿 New Zealand162
    #4🇨🇦 Canada152
    #5🇬🇧 United Kingdom134
    #6🇱🇺 Luxembourg129
    #7🇧🇪 Belgium125
    #8🇳🇱 Netherlands122
    #9🇳🇴 Norway119
    #10🇦🇺 Australia118
    #11🇩🇰 Denmark118
    #12🇸🇪 Sweden108
    #13🇫🇮 Finland102
    #14🇮🇸 Iceland101
    #15🇮🇪 Ireland97
    #16🇸🇲 San Marino74
    #17🇦🇹 Austria73
    #18🇫🇷 France73
    #19🇮🇹 Italy73
    #20🇮🇱 Israel71
    #21🇨🇷 Costa Rica70
    #22🇮🇳 India69
    #23🇯🇵 Japan67
    #24🇨🇴 Colombia61
    #25🇯🇲 Jamaica57

    * The data goes back to 1800, so U.S. democracy can be considered at least 219 years old.

    Using this specific criteria, there is only one country with continuous democracy for more than 200 years (The United States), and fourteen countries with democracies older than a century.

    As you’ll notice in the data, many countries became democracies after World War II. The Japanese Empire, for example, was occupied by Allied Forces and then dissolved. It then regained sovereignty afterwards, emerging as a newly democratic regime.

    Final notes: The data here goes back to 1800, and we have adjusted it to be current as of 2019. One change we made was to Tunisia, which is listed as the 24th oldest democracy in the data. Based on our due diligence on the subject, we felt it was appropriate to leave it off the list, given that most experts see the country as only achieving the status in 2014 in the post-Arab Spring era.

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