The History of Interest Rates Over 670 Years
Today, we live in a low-interest-rate environment, where the cost of borrowing for governments and institutions is lower than the historical average. It is easy to see that interest rates are at generational lows, but did you know that they are also at 670-year lows?
This week’s chart outlines the interest rates attached to loans dating back to the 1350s. Take a look at the diminishing history of the cost of debt—money has never been cheaper for governments to borrow than it is today.
The Birth of an Investing Class
Trade brought many good ideas to Europe, while helping spur the Renaissance and the development of the money economy.
Key European ports and trading nations, such as the Republic of Genoa or the Netherlands during the Renaissance period, help provide a good indication of the cost of borrowing in the early history of interest rates.
The Republic of Genoa: 4-5 year Lending Rate
Genoa became a junior associate of the Spanish Empire, with Genovese bankers financing many of the Spanish crown’s foreign endeavors.
Genovese bankers provided the Spanish royal family with credit and regular income. The Spanish crown also converted unreliable shipments of New World silver into capital for further ventures through bankers in Genoa.
Dutch Perpetual Bonds
A perpetual bond is a bond with no maturity date. Investors can treat this type of bond as an equity, not as debt. Issuers pay a coupon on perpetual bonds forever, and do not have to redeem the principal—much like the dividend from a blue-chip company.
By 1640, there was so much confidence in Holland’s public debt, that it made the refinancing of outstanding debt with a much lower interest rate of 5% possible.
Dutch provincial and municipal borrowers issued three types of debt:
- Promissory notes (Obligatiën): Short-term debt, in the form of bearer bonds, that was readily negotiable
- Redeemable bonds (Losrenten): Paid an annual interest to the holder, whose name appeared in a public-debt ledger until the loan was paid off
- Life annuities (Lijfrenten): Paid interest during the life of the buyer, where death cancels the principal
Unlike other countries where private bankers issued public debt, Holland dealt directly with prospective bondholders. They issued many bonds of small coupons that attracted small savers, like craftsmen and often women.
Rule Britannia: British Consols
In 1752, the British government converted all its outstanding debt into one bond, the Consolidated 3.5% Annuities, in order to reduce the interest rate it paid. Five years later, the annual interest rate on the stock dropped to 3%, adjusting the stock as Consolidated 3% Annuities.
The coupon rate remained at 3% until 1888, when the finance minister converted the Consolidated 3% Annuities, along with Reduced 3% Annuities (1752) and New 3% Annuities (1855), into a new bond─the 2.75% Consolidated Stock. The interest rate was further reduced to 2.5% in 1903.
Interest rates briefly went back up in 1927 when Winston Churchill issued a new government stock, the 4% Consols, as a partial refinancing of WWI war bonds.
American Ascendancy: The U.S. Treasury Notes
The United States Congress passed an act in 1870 authorizing three separate consol issues with redemption privileges after 10, 15, and 30 years. This was the beginning of what became known as Treasury Bills, the modern benchmark for interest rates.
The Great Inflation of the 1970s
In the 1970s, the global stock market was a mess. Over an 18-month period, the market lost 40% of its value. For close to a decade, few people wanted to invest in public markets. Economic growth was weak, resulting in double-digit unemployment rates.
The low interest policies of the Federal Reserve in the early ‘70s encouraged full employment, but also caused high inflation. Under new leadership, the central bank would later reverse its policies, raising interest rates to 20% in an effort to reset capitalism and encourage investment.
Looking Forward: Cheap Money
Since then, interest rates set by government debt have been rapidly declining, while the global economy has rapidly expanded. Further, financial crises have driven interest rates to just above zero in order to spur spending and investment.
It is clear that the arc of lending bends towards ever-decreasing interest rates, but how low can they go?
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Companies Gone Public in 2021: Visualizing IPO Valuations
Tracking the companies that have gone public in 2021, their valuation, and how they did it.
Companies Gone Public in 2021: Visualizing Valuations
Despite its many tumultuous turns, last year was a productive year for global markets, and companies going public in 2021 benefited.
From much-hyped tech initial public offerings (IPOs) to food and healthcare services, many companies with already large followings have gone public this year. Some were supposed to go public in 2020 but got delayed due to the pandemic, and others saw the opportunity to take advantage of a strong current market.
This graphic measures 68 companies that have gone public in 2021 — including IPOs, SPACs, and Direct Listings—as well as their subsequent valuations after listing.
Who’s Gone Public in 2021?
Historically, companies that wanted to go public employed one main method above others: the initial public offering (IPO).
But companies going public today readily choose from one of three different options, depending on market situations, associated costs, and shareholder preference:
- Initial Public Offering (IPO): A private company creates new shares which are underwritten by a financial organization and sold to the public.
- Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC): A separate company with no operations is created strictly to raise capital to acquire the company going public. SPACs are the fastest method of going public, and have become popular in recent years.
- Direct Listing: A private company enters a market with only existing, outstanding shares being traded and no new shares created. The cost is lower than that of an IPO, since no fees need to be paid for underwriting.
The majority of companies going public in 2021 chose the IPO route, but some of the biggest valuations resulted from direct listings.
|Listing Date||Company||Valuation ($B)||Listing Type|
|21-Jan-21||Hims and Hers Health||$1.6||SPAC|
|05-May-21||The Honest Company||$1.4||IPO|
|07-May-21||Blade Air Mobility||$0.83||SPAC|
|29-Sep-21||Warby Parker||$6.0||Direct Listing|
|27-Oct-21||Rent the Runway||$1.7||IPO|
Though there are many well-known names in the list, one of the biggest through lines continues to be the importance of tech.
A majority of 2021’s newly public companies have been in tech, including multiple mobile apps, websites, and online services. The two biggest IPOs so far were South Korea’s Coupang, an online marketplace valued at $60 billion after going public, and China’s ride-hailing app Didi Chuxing, the year’s largest post-IPO valuation at $73 billion.
And there were many apps and services going public through other means as well. Gaming company Roblox went public through a direct listing, earning a valuation of $30 billion, and cryptocurrency platform Coinbase has earned the year’s largest valuation so far, with an $86 billion valuation following its direct listing.
Big Companies Going Public in 2022
As with every year, some of the biggest companies going public were lined up for the later half.
Tech will continue to be the talk of the markets. Payment processing firm Stripe was setting up to be the year’s biggest IPO with an estimated valuation of $95 billion, but got delayed. Likewise, online grocery delivery platform InstaCart, which saw a big upswing in traction due to the pandemic, has been looking to go public at a valuation of at least $39 billion.
Of course, it’s common that potential public listings and offerings fall through. Whether they get delayed due to weak market conditions or cancelled at the last minute, anything can happen when it comes to public markets.
This post has been updated as of January 1, 2022.
The World’s Biggest Startups: Top Unicorns of 2021
Here are the world’s biggest startups with a valuation above $10 billion.
The World’s Biggest Startups: Top Unicorns of 2021
Many entrepreneurs start businesses around the world, but only the most successful new companies become “unicorns”—the biggest startups with a valuation above $1 billion.
Some unicorns are little-known companies making quiet but impactful strides in software, healthcare, automotive, and other fields. Others have already become well-known industry leaders, like aerospace manufacturer SpaceX and game developer and publisher Epic Games.
In total, there are more than 800 unicorn startups globally. That said, this visualization specifically hones in on the world’s decacorns (unicorns with valuations above $10 billion) as of December 2021 according to CB Insights.
Private Startups Valued at Over $10 Billion
The world’s most prominent unicorns constantly see their valuations change as they enter different rounds of funding or maturity.
In December 2021, there were 35 startups with a valuation above $10 billion, spread out across different countries and industries.
|Canva||$40B||Australia||Internet software & services|
|Instacart||$39B||U.S.||Supply chain, logistics, & delivery|
|Databricks||$38B||U.S.||Data management & analytics|
|FTX||$25B||China (Hong Kong)||Fintech|
|Xiaohongshu||$20B||China||E-commerce & direct-to-consumer|
|J&T Express||$20B||Indonesia||Supply chain, logistics, & delivery|
|Fanatics||$18B||U.S.||E-commerce & direct-to-consumer|
|SHEIN||$15B||China||E-commerce & direct-to-consumer|
|goPuff||$15B||U.S.||E-commerce & direct-to-consumer|
|Grammarly||$13B||U.S.||Internet software & services|
|JUUL Labs||$12B||U.S.||Consumer & retail|
|GoodLeap||$12B||U.S.||Internet software & services|
|ZongMu Technology||$11.4B||China||Auto & transportation|
|Celonis||$11B||Germany||Data management & analytics|
|Weilong||$10.9B||China||Consumer & retail|
Many of the most valuable startups are already giants in their fields. For example, social media company Bytedance is the developer behind video network platform Douyin and its international version, TikTok, and has amassed a valuation of $140 billion.
Financial services and payment software company Stripe jumped from a valuation of $36 billion to $95 billion over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even less universally prominent names like Swedish fintech Klarna ($45.6 billion) and Australian graphic design platform Canva ($40.0 billion) are well known within their respective fields.
But private valuations don’t last forever. Many eventually go public, like electric vehicle maker and Tesla competitor Rivian, which had a valuation of $27.6 billion before listing on the NASDAQ.
The Biggest Startups by Industries and Countries
Breaking down the world’s biggest startups by industry highlights that tech is still king in most investing circles.
More than 77% of unicorns valued above $10 billion are categorized directly in tech-related fields, primarily in financial and commerce software.
|Startups Valued Above $10B By Industry||Number|
|E-commerce & direct-to-consumer||4|
|Internet software & services||3|
|Consumer & retail||2|
|Data management & analytics||2|
|Supply chain, logistics, & delivery||2|
|Auto & transportation||1|
And many of the unicorns categorized in non-tech fields are still technology companies at their core. In fact, Indonesia’s logistics and package delivery company J&T Express is one of the few unicorns not directly in tech, though it still uses automated sorting in its warehouses.
It was one of the few startups to come from somewhere other than the U.S. or China, which together accounted for over 70% of the 35 biggest startups. The UK (3) was the next most-frequently listed headquarters, while Australia, Brazil, Germany, India and Sweden each had one of these unicorns on the list.
With constantly fluctuating valuations and technological breakthroughs always around the corner, the next $10 billion unicorn could come from almost anywhere.
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