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The Megacity Economy: How Seven Types of Global Cities Stack Up



The Megacity Economy: How Seven Types of Global Cities Stack Up

Megacity Economy: How Seven Types of Global Cities Stack Up

Back in 1950, close to 30% of the global population lived in cities.

That since has shifted dramatically. By 2050, a whopping 70% of people will live in urban areas – some of which will be megacities housing tens of millions of people.

This trend of urbanization has been a boon to global growth and the economy. In fact, it is estimated today by McKinsey that the 600 top urban centers contribute a whopping 60% to the world’s total GDP.

Seven Types of Global Cities

With so many people moving to urban metropolitan areas, the complexion of cities and their economies change each day.

The Brookings Institute has a new way of classifying these megacities, using various economic indicators.

According to their analysis, here’s what differentiates the seven types of global cities:

Important note: This isn’t intended to be a “ranking” of cities. However, on the infographic, cities are sorted by GDP per capita within each typology, and given a number based on where they stand in terms of this metric. This is just intended to show how wealthy the average citizen is per city, and is not a broader indicator relating to the success or overall ranking of a city.

1. Global Giants
These six cities are the world’s leading economic and financial centers. They are hubs for financial markets and are characterized by large populations and a high concentration of wealth and talent.

Examples: New York City, Tokyo, London

2. Asian Anchors
The six Asian Anchor cities are not as wealthy as the Global Giants, however they leverage attributes such as infrastructure connectivity and talented workforces to attract the most Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) out of any other metro grouping.

Examples: Hong Kong, Seoul, Singapore

3. Emerging Gateways
These 28 cities are large business and transportation hubs for major national and regional markets in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. While they have grown to reach middle-income status, they fall behind other global cities on many key competitiveness factors such as GDP and FDI.

Examples: Mumbai, Cape Town, Mexico City, Hangzhou

4. Factory China
There are 22 second and third-tier Chinese cities reliant on export manufacturing to power economic growth and international engagement. Although Factory China displays a GDP growth rate that is well above average, it fails to reach average levels of innovation, talent, and connectivity.

Examples: Shenyang, Changchun, Chengdu

5. Knowledge Capitals
These are 19 mid-sized cities in the U.S. and Europe that are considered centers of innovation, with elite research universities producing talented workforces.

Examples: San Francisco, Boston, Zurich

6. American Middleweights
These 16 mid-sized U.S. metro areas are relatively wealthy and house strong universities, as well as other anchor institutions.

Examples: Orlando, Sacramento, Phoenix

7. International Middleweights
These 26 cities span across several continents, internationally connected by human and investment capital flow. Like their American middleweight counterparts, growth has slowed for these cities since the 2008 recession.

Examples: Vancouver, Melbourne, Brussels, Tel Aviv

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Which Countries Hold the Most U.S. Debt?

Foreign investors hold $7.3 trillion of the national U.S. debt. These holdings declined 6% in 2022 amid a strong U.S. dollar and rising rates.



Which Countries Hold the Most U.S. Debt in 2022?

Today, America owes foreign investors of its national debt $7.3 trillion.

These are in the form of Treasury securities, some of the most liquid assets worldwide. Central banks use them for foreign exchange reserves and private investors flock to them during flights to safety thanks to their perceived low default risk.

Beyond these reasons, foreign investors may buy Treasuries as a store of value. They are often used as collateral during certain international trade transactions, or countries can use them to help manage exchange rate policy. For example, countries may buy Treasuries to protect their currency’s exchange rate from speculation.

In the above graphic, we show the foreign holders of the U.S. national debt using data from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Top Foreign Holders of U.S. Debt

With $1.1 trillion in Treasury holdings, Japan is the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt.

Japan surpassed China as the top holder in 2019 as China shed over $250 billion, or 30% of its holdings in four years.

This bond offloading by China is the one way the country can manage the yuan’s exchange rate. This is because if it sells dollars, it can buy the yuan when the currency falls. At the same time, China doesn’t solely use the dollar to manage its currency—it now uses a basket of currencies.

Here are the countries that hold the most U.S. debt:

RankCountryU.S. Treasury HoldingsShare of Total
1🇯🇵 Japan$1,076B14.7%
2🇨🇳 China$867B11.9%
3🇬🇧 United Kingdom$655B8.9%
4🇧🇪 Belgium$354B4.8%
5🇱🇺 Luxembourg$329B4.5%
6🇰🇾 Cayman Islands$284B3.9%
7🇨🇭 Switzerland$270B3.7%
8🇮🇪 Ireland$255B3.5%
9🇹🇼 Taiwan$226B3.1%
10🇮🇳 India$224B3.1%
11🇭🇰 Hong Kong$221B3.0%
12🇧🇷 Brazil$217B3.0%
13🇨🇦 Canada$215B2.9%
14🇫🇷 France$189B2.6%
15🇸🇬 Singapore$179B2.4%
16🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia$120B1.6%
17🇰🇷 South Korea$103B1.4%
18🇩🇪 Germany$101B1.4%
19🇳🇴 Norway$92B1.3%
20🇧🇲 Bermuda$82B1.1%
21🇳🇱 Netherlands$67B0.9%
22🇲🇽 Mexico$59B0.8%
23🇦🇪 UAE$59B0.8%
24🇦🇺 Australia$57B0.8%
25🇰🇼 Kuwait$49B0.7%
26🇵🇭 Philippines$48B0.7%
27🇮🇱 Israel$48B0.7%
28🇧🇸 Bahamas$46B0.6%
29🇹🇭 Thailand$46B0.6%
30🇸🇪 Sweden$42B0.6%
31🇮🇶 Iraq$41B0.6%
32🇨🇴 Colombia$40B0.5%
33🇮🇹 Italy$39B0.5%
34🇵🇱 Poland$38B0.5%
35🇪🇸 Spain$37B0.5%
36🇻🇳 Vietnam$37B0.5%
37🇨🇱 Chile$34B0.5%
38🇵🇪 Peru$32B0.4%
All Other$439B6.0%

As the above table shows, the United Kingdom is the third highest holder, at over $655 billion in Treasuries. Across Europe, 13 countries are notable holders of these securities, the highest in any region, followed by Asia-Pacific at 11 different holders.

A handful of small nations own a surprising amount of U.S. debt. With a population of 70,000, the Cayman Islands own a towering amount of Treasury bonds to the tune of $284 billion. There are more hedge funds domiciled in the Cayman Islands per capita than any other nation worldwide.

In fact, the four smallest nations in the visualization above—Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Bahamas, and Luxembourg—have a combined population of just 1.2 million people, but own a staggering $741 billion in Treasuries.

Interest Rates and Treasury Market Dynamics

Over 2022, foreign demand for Treasuries sank 6% as higher interest rates and a strong U.S. dollar made owning these bonds less profitable.

This is because rising interest rates on U.S. debt makes the present value of their future income payments lower. Meanwhile, their prices also fall.

As the chart below shows, this drop in demand is a sharp reversal from 2018-2020, when demand jumped as interest rates hovered at historic lows. A similar trend took place in the decade after the 2008-09 financial crisis when U.S. debt holdings effectively tripled from $2 to $6 trillion.

Foreign Holdings of U.S. Debt

Driving this trend was China’s rapid purchase of Treasuries, which ballooned from $100 billion in 2002 to a peak of $1.3 trillion in 2013. As the country’s exports and output expanded, it sold yuan and bought dollars to help alleviate exchange rate pressure on its currency.

Fast-forward to today, and global interest-rate uncertainty—which in turn can impact national currency valuations and therefore demand for Treasuries—continues to be a factor impacting the future direction of foreign U.S. debt holdings.

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