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Mapping the World’s Key Maritime Choke Points

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maritime choke points

Mapping the World’s Key Maritime Choke Points

Maritime transport is an essential part of international trade—approximately 80% of global merchandise is shipped via sea.

Because of its importance, commercial shipping relies on strategic trade routes to move goods efficiently. These waterways are used by thousands of vessels a year—but it’s not always smooth sailing. In fact, there are certain points along these routes that pose a risk to the whole system.

Here’s a look at the world’s most vulnerable maritime bottlenecks—also known as choke points—as identified by GIS.

What’s a Choke Point?

Choke points are strategic, narrow passages that connect two larger areas to one another. When it comes to maritime trade, these are typically straits or canals that see high volumes of traffic because of their optimal location.

Despite their convenience, these vital points pose several risks:

  • Structural risks: As demonstrated in the recent Suez Canal blockage, ships can crash along the shore of a canal if the passage is too narrow, causing traffic jams that can last for days.
  • Geopolitical risks: Because of their high traffic, choke points are particularly vulnerable to blockades or deliberate disruptions during times of political unrest.

The type and degree of risk varies, depending on location. Here’s a look at some of the biggest threats, at eight of the world’s major choke points.

maritime choke point risks

Because of their high risk, alternatives for some of these key routes have been proposed in the past—for instance, in 2013 Nicaraguan Congress approved a $40 billion dollar project proposal to build a canal that was meant to rival the Panama Canal.

As of today, it has yet to materialize.

A Closer Look: Key Maritime Choke Points

Despite their vulnerabilities, these choke points remain critical waterways that facilitate international trade. Below, we dive into a few of the key areas to provide some context on just how important they are to global trade.

The Panama Canal

The Panama Canal is a lock-type canal that provides a shortcut for ships traveling between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Ships sailing between the east and west coasts of the U.S. save over 8,000 nautical miles by using the canal—which roughly shortens their trip by 21 days.

In 2019, 252 million long tons of goods were transported through the Panama Canal, which generated over $2.6 billion in tolls.

The Suez Canal

The Suez Canal is an Egyptian waterway that connects Europe to Asia. Without this route, ships would need to sail around Africa, which would add approximately seven days to their trips. In 2019, nearly 19,000 vessels, and 1 billion tons of cargo, traveled through the Suez Canal.

In an effort to mitigate risk, the Egyptian government embarked on a major expansion project for the canal back in 2015. But, given the recent blockage caused by a Taiwanese container ship, it’s clear that the waterway is still vulnerable to obstruction.

The Strait of Malacca

At its smallest point, the Strait of Malacca is approximately 1.5 nautical miles, making it one of the world’s narrowest choke points. Despite its size, it’s one of Asia’s most critical waterways, since it provides a critical connection between China, India, and Southeast Asia. This choke point creates a risky situation for the 130,000 or so ships that visit the Port of Singapore each year.

The area is also known to have problems with piracy—in 2019, there were 30 piracy incidents, according to private information group ReCAAP ISC.

The Strait of Hormuz

Controlled by Iran, the Strait of Hormuz links the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman, ultimately draining into the Arabian Sea. It’s a primary vein for the world’s oil supply, transporting approximately 21 million barrels per day.

Historically, it’s also been a site of regional conflict. For instance, tankers and commercial ships were attacked in that area during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

The Bab el-Mandeb Strait

The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is another primary waterway for the world’s oil and natural gas. Nestled between Africa and the Middle East, the critical route connects the Mediterranean Sea (via the Suez Canal) to the Indian Ocean.

Like the Strait of Malacca, it’s well known as a high-risk area for pirate attacks. In May 2020, a UK chemical tanker was attacked off the coast of Yemen–the ninth pirate attack in the area that year.

Due to the strategic nature of the region, there is a strong military presence in nearby Djibouti, including China’s first ever foreign military base.

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Pandemic Recovery: Have BEACH Stocks Bounced Back?

BEACH stocks—bookings, entertainment, airlines, cruises, and hotels—were pulverized at the beginning of the pandemic. Here’s how they’ve bounced back.

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Pandemic Recovery: Have BEACH Stocks Bounced Back?

The travel and entertainment industries have had a volatile ride over the last year.

During the initial stages of the pandemic, when panic and uncertainty ran rife, BEACH stocks–booking, entertainment, airlines, cruises, and hotels—were left scrambling. Collectively, $332 billion in market cap washed away.

Now, it appears the tide might be turning for these companies, buoyed by vaccine breakthroughs and glimmers of hope for a return to normalcy.

This infographic looks at the growth in market cap value across BEACH stocks one year from when the WHO officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

Washing Back to Shore?

BEACH stocks have gained a collective $376 billion in market cap in the year since the pandemic was declared, with about half the companies trading at their respective all-time highs.

In fact, about 70% of BEACH stocks have actually outperformed the S&P 500, which returned 43.7% during the same period.

CompanyTickerCategoryMarket Cap: 03/11/20 ($B)Market Cap: 03/11/21 ($B)Change
American AirlinesAALAirlines7.214.296%
Southwest AirlinesLUVAirlines23.534.446%
Alaska Air GroupALKAirlines5.78.142%
United AirlinesUALAirlines13.017.233%
Air CanadaACAirlines5.97.933%
Delta Air LinesDALAirlines29.130.96%
Expedia GroupEXPEBooking12.024.6105%
Allegiant TravelALGTBooking2.04.198%
Booking HoldingsBKNGBooking64.096.051%
Caesars EntertainmentCZRCasino & Hotel2.220.8824%
Norwegian Cruise LinesNCLHCruise & Casino4.310.9151%
Royal Caribbean CruisesRCLCruise & Casino10.822.4108%
CarnivalCCLCruise & Casino16.431.893%
Penn National GamingPENNEntertainment & Live Events2.620.4661%
Six FlagsSIXEntertainment & Live Events1.74.1142%
Live NationLYVEntertainment & Live Events10.819.379%
The Walt Disney CoDISEntertainment & Live Events201.2357.177%
Cedar FairFUNEntertainment & Live Events1.82.857%
HiltonHLTHotels25.034.638%
Marriott InternationalMARHotels35.648.235%
Choice Hotels InternationalCHHHotels4.55.930%
Hyatt HotelsHHotels6.78.729%
Marriott Vacations WorldwideVACHotels & Resorts3.87.7103%
Vail ResortsMTNHotels & Resorts7.113.488%
Park Hotels & ResortsPKHotels & Resorts3.45.358%
Wyndham Hotels & ResortsWHHotels & Resorts4.26.451%
MGM Resorts InternationalMGMResorts & Casino10.219.389%
Wynn ResortsWYNNResorts & Casino9.715.964%
Las Vegas SandsLVSResorts & Casino40.748.218%

BEACH Stocks Leaders and Laggards

When dissecting this basket of stocks by industry, it’s clear that much of the recovery story is lopsided. One reason for this, despite the pandemic, is that there are more granular, idiosyncratic trends occurring within these sectors.

Let’s look at what’s propelling the leaders, and dragging down the laggards:

Leading: Online Betting

There’s reason to be bullish on gambling stocks. Since late 2018, some 20 states have legalized sports betting, with more expecting to follow. Relative to other areas, the pandemic has been kind to gambling stocks. Many of those with an online presence have witnessed a spike in traffic, as more people continue to flock towards online betting.

Within the BEACH stocks basket, Penn National Gaming and Caesars Entertainment are clear outliers, having grown an epic 661% and 823% respectively. In addition, the broader industry (measured by the BETZ ETF) has nearly doubled the performance of the S&P 500 since its inception.

Laggard: Airlines

The return to normalcy will be much more delayed for airlines. Global RPKs, an industry metric, are not expected to reach pre-pandemic levels until 2024.

Actions of insiders also seem to match this negative sentiment. Warren Buffett, once a staunch supporter of airlines, decided to call it quits during the pandemic—dumping his entire position.

Airline COVID RPKs

U.S. airline executives have collectively been selling their stakes much more aggressively than in the last few years. To add insult to injury, there’s significant shorting of airline stocks as well. At a short interest of 11.6%, American Airlines is most heavily shorted BEACH stock.

Laggard: Hotels

In a year where social interactions and gatherings have largely disappeared, so too has much of the business activity for hotels. For instance, Hilton sales suffered a 58% decline year-over-year.

But even without the pandemic, the hotel industry had their work cut out for them, through a growing and formidable competitor in Airbnb. Airbnb can scale its network beyond what any hotel can. This is evident in its room count, which is greater than the largest hotels combined.

Airbnb room count vs hotels

More Bumps On The Road Ahead?

The investing landscape today looks to be disconnected from reality, in part because of the forward-looking nature of markets. Even though things are dire today, there’s a belief that light exists at the end of the tunnel.

But the path to recovery isn’t quite so linear. When the dust settles, it’ll become more apparent which industries will “return to normal” and which have set out permanently on a new trajectory.

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Mapped: The Top 10 Billionaire Cities

Where do the most billionaires live? For years, NYC has topped the list of billionaire cities, but 2020 marked a monumental shift.

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Mapped: The Top 10 Billionaire Cities in 2020

In 2020, the world gained 493 new billionaires—that’s one every 17 hours.

For the last seven years, New York City has been home to more billionaires than any other city in the world. However, last year marked a monumental shift in the status quo.

Beijing has unseated the Big Apple, and is now home to 100 billionaires. That’s one more billionaire than the 99 living in New York City.

Today’s map uses data from Forbes to display the top 10 cities that house the most billionaires.

Where do the Most Billionaires Live?

The richest of the rich are quite concentrated in cities, but some cities seem to best suit the billionaire lifestyle. Here’s a breakdown of the top 10 billionaire capitals and the collective net worth of all the ultra wealthy that live there.

RankCityRegionNumber of BillionairesNet Worth of the City's Billionaires
#1Beijing🇨🇳 Asia100$484.3B
#2New York City 🇺🇸 North America99$560.5B
#3Hong Kong🇨🇳 Asia80$448.4B
#4Moscow🇷🇺 Europe79$420.6B
#5Shenzhen🇨🇳 Asia68$415.3B
#6Shanghai 🇨🇳 Asia64$259.6B
#7London 🇬🇧 Europe63$316.1B
#8Mumbai🇮🇳 Asia48$265.0B
#9San Fransisco🇺🇸 North America48$190.0B
#10Hangzhou🇨🇳 Asia47$269.2B

Some cities have some obvious billionaires that come to mind. New York’s richest person and former mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is worth $59 billion. Beijing’s richest billionaire is the founder of TikTok (among other things), Zhang Yiming with a net worth of $35.6 billion.

In terms of the locations themselves, London, New York, and San Francisco are the only Western cities to make the list. Though New York was ousted from the top position last year, altogether the city’s billionaires are still worth more than Beijing’s.

One new city to make the top 10 list of billionaire cities was Hangzhou, the home of Jack Ma. It booted out Singapore from the 10th spot.

East Meets West

More than half of the top 10 cities are located in Asia, providing evidence of the shift eastwards when it comes to seats of wealth. Five of the six Asian cities listed are all in China.

What’s helped lead to this?

The country has seen an e-commerce boom, not in the least thanks to the pandemic. Additionally, the efficient handling of COVID-19 has allowed the economy to get back on track much more quickly than other countries. According to the BBC, 50% of China’s new billionaires have made their wealth either through tech or manufacturing.

Four of the Chinese cities on the list also had the biggest billionaire growth in 2020. Each of them gained more than 10 net new billionaires:

  • 🇨🇳 Hangzhou: 21
  • 🇨🇳 Shanghai: 18
  • 🇨🇳 Shenzhen: 24
  • 🇨🇳 Beijing: 33

The only other city to gain more than 10 new billionaires in 2020 was San Francisco with 11.

Now sitting at 698 billionaires, China is coming up on the 724 held by the United States. Beijing overtaking NYC could be the beginning of a larger tipping point.

Shifting Tides

Asia-Pacific’s collective 1,149 billionaires are worth $4.7 trillion, while U.S. billionaires are worth $4.4 trillion in total wealth.

Overall, it looks like the wealth tides may be turning as China continues to progress economically and more billionaires become based in the East over the West.

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