Rise of ETFs and Passive Investing
Passive investing is huge, but it’s barely made a dent on active
The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.
For the investing world, the meteoric rise of ETFs, or exchange-traded funds, has been a key story to follow since the 2008 crisis.
The ETF landscape has changed dramatically over that timeframe. In 2007, there were 1,181 ETFs that existed worldwide. By 2015, that number sailed to 4,396 – that’s a lot of new ETFs. Today, there is so much selection out there that you can do pretty much everything.
Want to go 2x short oil? Then try the ProShares UltraShort Bloomberg Crude Oil ETF (SCO). Want to buy into the cybersecurity boom? Try the PureFunds Cybersecurity ETF (HACK). Want to focus in on a specific geographic region such as Singapore? Don’t worry, the iShares MSCI Singapore ETF (EWS) gets you precise exposure to large and mid-sized Singaporean companies.
You get the idea.
Part of a Bigger Trend
Even though the global ETF market is estimated to be worth $7 trillion by 2021, the ETF craze is actually part of a much bigger trend towards putting money into passive funds.
Passive funds aim to “track” a specific market, by allocating dollars in equal proportion to an index. This is in contrast to active funds, which employ professional managers who try to beat the market by having more discretion in choosing which securities make up a portfolio.
The vast majority of ETFs fit in the former category, and passive investing has been on a roll since the Financial Crisis. In 2015, for example, $413.8 billion was poured into passive funds, while $207.3 billion was pulled out of U.S. mutual funds with active management.
Passive or Active?
Why have ETFs and passive investing been so popular? In general, it is because many active managers have struggled to beat the market as a whole in recent years.
However, there are some important caveats worth considering.
First, while most managers fail to beat the market, some of them do succeed. Financial planners will be the first to tell you that there are revered mutual funds out there that do often perform to the upside.
Next, passive funds have also profited off of the extreme and unprecedented actions taken by central banks. Since the crisis, central banks have experimented by pumping trillions of dollars of liquidity into the system, creating a very unusual market situation. With the cost of borrowing at record lows, valuations have become extremely distorted in the market. This careful balancing act by central banks benefits passive investors until it blows up.
Lastly, low volatility by definition means smaller price movements that active managers can capitalize on. If the volatility environment changes, passive funds may lose a level of attractiveness as there are more winners and losers at any given time.
The Future of 5G: Comparing 3 Generations of Wireless Technology
See how 5G compares to older iterations of wireless technology, and why it’s poised to change the way the modern world uses data.
The Future of 5G: Comparing 3 Generations of Wireless Technology
Wireless technology has evolved rapidly since the turn of the century. From voice-only 2G capabilities and internet-enabled 3G, today’s ecosystem of wireless activity is founded on the reliable connection of 4G.
Fifth-generation wireless network technology, better known as 5G, is now being rolled out in major cities worldwide. By 2024, an estimated 1.5 billion mobile users─which account for 40% of current global activity─will be using 5G wireless networks.
Today’s chart highlights three generations of wireless technology in the 21st century, and the differences between 3G, 4G, and 5G networks.
5G: The Next Great Thing?
With over 5 billion mobile users worldwide, our world is growing more connected than ever.
Data from GSMA Intelligence shows how rapidly global traffic could grow across different networks:
- 2018: 43% of mobile users on 4G
- 2025: 59% of mobile users on 4G, 15% of mobile users on 5G
But as with any new innovation, consumers should expect both positives and negatives as the technology matures.
- IoT Connectivity
5G networks will significantly optimize communication between the Internet of Things (IoT) devices to make our lives more convenient.
- Low latency
Also known as lag, latency is the time it takes for data to be transferred over networks. Users may see latency rates drop as low as one millisecond.
- High speeds
Real-time streaming may soon be a reality through 5G networks. Downloading a two-hour movie takes a whopping 26 hours over 3G networks and roughly six minutes on 4G networks─however, it’ll only take 3.6 seconds over 5G.
- Distance from nodes
Walls, trees, and even rain can significantly block 5G wireless signals.
- Requires many nodes
Many 5G nodes will need to be installed to offer the same level of coverage found on 4G.
- Restricted to 5G-enabled devices
Users can’t simply upgrade their software. Instead, they will need a 5G-enabled device to access the network.
Global 5G Networks
5G still has a way to go before it reaches mainstream adoption. Meanwhile, countries and cities are racing to install the infrastructure needed for the next wave of innovation to hit.
Since late 2018, over 25 countries have deployed 5G wireless networks. Notable achievements include South Korea, which became the first country globally to launch 5G wireless technology in April 2019. Switzerland boasts the highest number of 5G network deployments, currently at 225 and counting.
To date, China has built roughly 350,000 5G sites─compared to the less than 20,000 in the U.S.─and plans to invest an additional US$400 billion in infrastructure by 2023. Chinese mobile providers plan to launch 5G services starting in 2020.
What Does This Mean For 4G?
4G isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. As 5G gradually rolls out, 4G and 5G networks will need to work together to support the wave of IoT devices entering the market. This network piggybacking also has the potential to expand global access to the internet in the future.
The race to dominate the wireless waves is even pushing companies like China’s Huawei to explore 6G wireless innovation─before they’ve even launched their 5G networks.
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?
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.
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:
|Rank||Country||Mean wealth per adult||Country||Median 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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