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The Circular Economy: Redesigning our Planet’s Future

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Circular Economic Model

Think about the last item you threw away. Did you consider where that product ended up, once you threw it away?

The Earth’s growing waste problem can be traced back to a culture that treats virtually every item we buy and own as disposable. Rapid urbanisation, population growth, and industrialisation are key contributors to the burgeoning volumes of waste that humans are producing each year.

But what if there was away to get around that?

Introducing the Circular Economy

Today’s post from BlackRock highlights the key benefits of adopting a circular economy, and examines the factors that will make the biggest impact in the years to come.

Circular Economy

A Culture of Consumption

Mass production is making products cheaper, more readily available, and more readily disposable, bringing levels of material comfort unimaginable to previous generations.

Companies are making new products at a frenetic pace to keep up with global demand─consuming finite resources as if the Earth had an infinite supply.

The intense effects of this mass consumption are visible across multiple industries:

  • Construction: Construction waste alone is expected to reach 2.2 billion tonnes annually by 2025.
  • Fast Fashion: Roughly 87% of clothing is discarded or burned each year, costing US$100 billion.
  • Plastics: Over 95% of plastic packaging value is wasted every year, costing up to US$120 billion.

As natural resources decline and waste continues to pile up, our society is at a crossroads.

A Tale of Two Economies

Today, most of the world follows the Take-Make-Waste practices of the linear economy, with little regard for future use of these resources and products. Unfortunately, most of this ends up in landfills─by 2050, we could be producing 3.4 billion tonnes of waste each year.

The circular economy, by contrast, is focused on redesigning our systems, processes, and products to enable goods to be used longer, repurposed, or recycled more efficiently.

The circular economy is a major transformational force that will last decades…investors are increasingly considering sustainability factors when making investment decisions.

—BlackRock

Companies and governments that choose to adopt a circular economic model could end up saving €600 billion (US$663 billion) annually─and potentially add €1.8 trillion (US$2 trillion) in additional benefits to Europe’s overall economy.

Designing a Better Future

Three major factors are driving the gradual, global shift to a circular economy.

  1. Economic

    Companies will need to switch from wasteful to sustainable practices, and many are taking steps towards a better future. The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment was signed in 2018 by over 400 organisations to eliminate plastic waste and pollution.

  2. Regulatory

    Regulations such as bans on single-use plastics and international waste imports are growing more stringent, and some governments are also offering tax incentives for corporations that follow sustainable practices.

  3. Society

    More consumers are actively researching and questioning the impacts of the products they buy, and consumer demand is showing a preference for reusable products and practices.

While few public companies today are actively using a circular economy, several major brands are leading the way in sustainable business practices.

  • Philips: Light-as-a-service that provides access to lighting rather than ownership of lightbulbs
  • Levi Strauss: Repurposing old garments into building insulation, upholstery, and new clothing
  • Toshiba: First multi-function printer, heat-sensitive erasable toner can do up to five reprints per page
  • Renault: Revamped old vehicle drive trains, engines, and gearboxes to almost-new condition

Companies and governments in the circular economy have a structural advantage to solve some of the world’s biggest economic issues ─ giving them a strong, long-term market for goods and services, the potential to lower costs, and open profitable new business streams.

Lasting Impact on People, Planet, and Profit

In order for the circular economic model to achieve widespread adoption, both sustainable investment and partnerships across sectors are needed.

This rally for change is making an impact on financial markets─sustainable investments around the world grew from US$13.3 trillion in 2012 to US$30.7 trillion in 2018.

Healthy economies rely on a healthy environment, and building a circular economy is integral to the future health of our economy, planet, and society.

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China

An Investing Megatrend: How Emerging Wealth is Shaping the Future

Emerging markets are ascending on the global stage and wielding more economic power—and it’s drastically altering the investment landscape.

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Globalisation is a rising tide that lifts all boats.

In an increasingly connected world, countries are engaging with global markets more than ever before. As a result, global wealth is shifting towards emerging markets. This megatrend—a global trend with sustained impacts—is profoundly influencing everyday life, society, and business.

Shifting Economic Power

Today’s infographic from iShares by BlackRock explains how emerging markets are classified, along with which countries are growing the fastest—and how investors can follow the money.

BlackRock-Emerging-Markets Global Wealth

What Is An Emerging Market?

Every economy goes through five distinct stages of growth:

  1. Traditional Society: Based on primary industries, such as subsistence farming.
  2. The Pre-Conditions of Take-off: Spread of technology creates a more productive agricultural economy.
  3. Take-off: Industrialisation begins, and technological breakthroughs occur.
  4. Drive to Maturity: More complex manufacturing, and large-scale infrastructure investment takes place.
  5. Age of Mass Consumption: Urban society and a tertiary industry dominate, as disposable income grows.
  6. Source

    Emerging markets fall into the transitory stages between ‘Take-off’ and ‘Drive to maturity’ as their economies modernise. Today, such countries offer lots of promise, but also come with a range of challenges:

    • Pro: Greater return potential, growing middle class, increasing consumption
    • Risk: Political instability, lack of infrastructure, lack of market access

    Between 2000–2018, emerging markets’ share of global wealth has more than doubled from 10% to 24%. China is a major player in this transformation.

    China’s Economic Might

    China’s impressive trajectory from agricultural economy to global superpower cannot be ignored. The nation is on track to overtake the U.S. in terms of gross domestic product (GDP, nominal) by the year 2030.

    Year🇨🇳 China GDP🇺🇸 U.S. GDP
    2000$2.2T$12.6T
    2010$6.1T$15T
    2018$10.8T$17.8T
    2020E$16T$20.2T
    2030E$26.5T$23.5T
    2040E$36.6T$28.3T
    2050E$50T$34.1T

    China’s enormous growth has a ripple effect on its GDP composition. A more affluent middle class is buying higher-priced discretionary goods—such as cars and electronics—boosting the country’s domestic consumption.

    Investors must keep an eye out for other emerging markets that are emulating China’s example.

    One Piece Of the Puzzle

    China is just one case study—several other economies are also making strides on the world stage. Each country brings unique advantages, but also barriers to overcome.

    CountryReal GDP Growth (2019E)StrengthsWeaknesses
    🇮🇳 India7.4%✔ Rapidly growing economy
    ✔ Vast working-age population
    ✘ Red tape
    ✘ Lack of infrastructure
    🇨🇳 China6.2%✔ Good infrastructure
    ✔ High R&D spending
    ✘ Ageing population
    ✘ High debt
    🇮🇩 Indonesia5.1%✔ Cheap labour
    ✔ Diversifying economy
    ✘Wide income gap
    ✘ Lack of infrastructure
    🇲🇽 Mexico2.5%✔ Integrated with global economy
    ✔ Cheap and qualified labour
    ✘ Political unrest
    ✘ Reliant on U.S. ties
    🇧🇷 Brazil2.4%✔ Diversifying economy
    ✔ Strategic location
    ✘ High production costs
    ✘ Inflation
    🇳🇬 Nigeria2.3%✔ High FDI
    ✔ Diversifying economy
    ✘ Political unrest
    ✘ Lack of infrastructure
    🇷🇺 Russia1.8%✔ Natural resources
    ✔ Educated workforce
    ✘ Political unrest
    ✘ Lack of FDI
    🇹🇷 Turkey0.4%✔ Cheap labour
    ✔ Strategic location
    ✘ Political unrest
    ✘ Red tape

    Source: Global Finance Magazine

    With these major emerging markets in mind, how can investors tap into the global wealth shift?

    Where Are the Opportunities?

    There are several avenues for an investor to play into this megatrend: structural solutions, consumer goods, and international investment.

    Structural solutions

    Emerging markets are increasingly gaining access to technology. Growth in connectivity is closely linked with improved productivity, and many countries are ripe for a surge in online users.

    However, much can still be done to speed up technological adoption, such as boosting 3G/4G network volume and coverage, and lowering the cost of data and smartphones to be more economical.

    By helping solve some of these structural constraints through technological innovation, investors can tap into the economic growth of emerging markets.

    Consumer goods

    As disposable income increases, a sizeable middle class will seek out products that elevate the quality of life. In India, domestic consumption is estimated to hit $6 trillion by 2023—four times its 2018 level.

    The region’s spending will likely be propelled by higher-priced goods, as well as a wider variety of choices across food, transport, and fitness categories.

    Global brands that plan to expand into emerging markets, or companies with a proven track record in these areas, are potential winners for investment.

    International investment

    Last but not least, investors can identify local winners in emerging wealth markets, through active or passive investing.

    An active investment strategy would be to directly buy into individual company stocks, listed on a country’s stock exchange. Meanwhile, a passive investing strategy would be to seek out exchange-traded funds (ETFs) covering specific markets, and/or sectors within emerging markets. Many of these are also listed on major exchanges.

    Diversifying either or both strategies across two or more countries can help mitigate risk. Investors can also choose index funds that broadly encompass all emerging markets.

    As countries climb the economic ladder, the emerging wealth shift continues to gain momentum. By staying attuned to these macro changes, investors may unlock long-term growth from emerging markets.

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Visualized: Ranking the Goods Most Traded Between the U.S. and China

This infographic ranks the top 10 exports and imports of the U.S. and China, the two most significant global economic superpowers today.

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Most Traded Goods U.S. and China

The Most Traded Goods Between the U.S. and China

From a young age, many of us were taught that sharing is caring.

Many countries have also followed this simple principle, in the interest of growth and prosperity, when doing business on a global scale.

Today’s infographic from HowMuch.net charts the top imports and exports between the U.S. and China, pulled from the Observatory of Economic Complexity’s (OEC) global market data for 2017.

Which items do you find most surprising?

Give and Take: The Trade Relationship of the U.S. and China

Two of the world’s largest superpowers today, the U.S. and China have typically had a long-standing trade relationship going back decades.

The table below shows the top 10 exports the U.S. sent to China in 2017, along with the proportion of each item in the total export value of $132 billion. The top 10 items account for 39% of total exports to China.

The Top 10 Exports from the U.S. to China (2017)

ItemsValue (US$B)% of Total Exports
Aeroplanes and other aircraft$13.19.9%
Soya beans$12.59.4%
Vehicles with only spark-ignition internal
combustion reciprocating piston engine
$7.96.0%
Electronic integrated circuits; Processors and controllers$4.93.7%
Oils$4.03.0%
Gold$2.11.6%
Machines and apparatus for the manufacture of semiconductor
devices or of electronic integrated circuits
$1.91.5%
Vehicles for transport of persons$1.91.4%
Petroleum gases and other gaseous hydrocarbons$1.71.3%
Copper$1.61.2%

While the majority of these are highly specialized, manufactured products─such as airplanes, integrated circuits, and semiconductors─the U.S. still relies on exporting many basic commodities such as gold, copper, and soya beans.

Below is the list of the top 10 imported products from China, and the percent that each product accounts of the total $444 billion in 2017. These top 10 items make up 30% of all products imported from China.

The Top 10 Imports from China to the U.S. (2017)

ItemsValue (US$B)% of Total Imports
Telephones for cellular networks or for other wireless networks$43.79.8%
Automatic data processing machines$37.28.4%
Trycicles, scooters and similar wheeled toys & other toys$12.32.8%
Communication apparatus$11.32.5%
Games; articles for funfair$5.41.2%
Other Monitors$4.71.1%
Units of automatic data processing machines$4.41.0%
Electrical static converters$4.61.0%
Seats$4.31.0%
Reception apparatus for television$4.20.9%

China is best known for its electronics and technology-focused products─with electronics products accounting for two-thirds of the top 10 Chinese imports. In 2017, China also dominated all electronics imports into the U.S., claiming over 60% of the market.

But how has the recent trade war impacted the imports and exports between the U.S. and China?

The U.S.-China Trade War Continues

At one point, China was the United States’ top trading partner in terms of the total value of imports and exports. Since the trade war began in 2018, China has fallen to third place.

For example, soybean exports to China in 2019 are predicted to only reach a third of numbers seen in 2018, and the price of this commodity has been nearly cut in half.

In the first nine months of 2019 alone, the U.S. saw a 13.5% drop in imported products from China, due to actual and threatened increased tariffs. In addition, U.S. exports to China dropped by 15.5%─a significant loss of $53 billion.

The Future of U.S.-China Trade

To date, the U.S. has enacted tariffs on over $550 billion worth of imported products from China. In response to the U.S. tariffs, China has added tariffs to $185 billion worth of exported goods from the United States.

With the 2020 U.S. presidential election looming on the horizon, threats of increased tariffs seem to dominate headlines internationally. If these trends continue, many U.S. businesses—both at home and abroad in China—could find their bottom lines threatened by rising trade costs.

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