Animation: Top Countries by GDP and Economic Components (1970-2017)
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Top Countries by GDP and Economic Components (1970-2017)

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Countries by GDP and Economic Components (1970-2017)

While looking at the top countries by GDP is a useful big picture measure, it can also be informative to look at the components that make up an economy as well.

Examining a country’s economic building blocks can tell us a lot about what stage of development the country is in, and where competitive advantages may exist.

Analyzing GDP by Sector

Today’s “horse race” bar chart, by Number Story, is an entertaining historical look at the ranking of top countries by GDP, including the parts that make up the whole.

Here is the latest data as of 2018, as well as the largest sector according to data from the United Nations’ industry classification database:

RankCountryGDP (2018)Top Sector (% of total)2nd Largest Sector (% of total)
1🇺🇸 United States$20.6TOther (55%)Mining/Manufacturing/Utilities (15%)
2🇨🇳 China$13.6TOther (36%)Mining/Manufacturing/Utilities (33%)
3🇯🇵 Japan$4.9TOther (43%)Mining/Manufacturing/Utilities (23%)
4🇩🇪 Germany$3.6TOther (48%)Mining/Manufacturing/Utilities (25%)
5🇬🇧 UK$2.5TOther (55%)Retail/Restaurant/Hotels (14%)
6🇮🇳 India$2.5TOther (36%)Mining/Manufacturing/Utilities (22%)
7🇫🇷 France$2.5TOther (56%)Mining/Manufacturing/Utilities (13%)
8🇮🇹 Italy$1.9TOther (49%)Mining/Manufacturing/Utilities (20%)
9🇧🇷 Brazil$1.6TOther (50%)Mining/Manufacturing/Utilities (16%)
10🇨🇦 Canada$1.6TOther (52%)Mining/Manufacturing/Utilities (18%)
11🇰🇷 South Korea$1.6TOther (42%)Mining/Manufacturing/Utilities (31%)
12🇷🇺 Russia$1.5TOther (36%)Mining/Manufacturing/Utilities (28%)
13🇦🇺 Australia$1.4TOther (53%)Mining/Manufacturing/Utilities (17%)
14🇪🇸 Spain$1.3TOther (47%)Retail/Restaurant/Hotels (19%)
15🇲🇽 Mexico$1.2TOther (34%)Mining/Manufacturing/Utilities (24%)

Why are “Other Activities” so dominant in this breakdown?

It’s because of the way GDP that components are classified as data in the UN industry classification system, which is laid out below:

  1. Agriculture, hunting, forestry, fishing (ISIC A-B)
  2. Mining, manufacturing, utilities (ISIC C-E)
  3. Construction (ISIC F)
  4. Wholesale, retail trade, restaurants and hotels (ISIC G-H)
  5. Transport, storage and communication (ISIC I)
  6. Other activities, such as finance, healthcare, real estate, and tech (ISIC J-P)

Although agriculture, construction, or manufacturing have been a bedrock for economies in the past, developed countries skew towards adding economic value in different ways today.

Given that finance, government spending (healthcare, education, defense, etc.) and technology — all important modern industries — are included in “Other”, this makes the possibly outdated classification the biggest (and least useful) category to examine here.

Nevertheless, there is still information we can glean from this animated breakdown of GDP, spanning a period of almost 50 years.

A More Granular Look at GDP

In the past, we’ve shown you high level visualizations that break down the world’s $86 trillion GDP by country, or even projections on the largest countries by GDP in 2030 in PPP terms.

However, the animated bar chart shows something more granular that is compelling in its own right. By observing the evolution of countries’ economic components over time, some interesting observations emerge that would normally be lost in the big picture.

Japan’s Manufacturing Boom

At points during Japan’s heyday of growth during the 1980’s, manufacturing comprised nearly 30% of economic activity. By the mid-90s, this single segment of Japan’s economy was so valuable that, on its own, it would’ve placed fifth in the global ranking.

America Leading the Pack

While other countries switch positions, reordering as economies boom and bust, the U.S. has handily remained in top position.

Japan was the country that narrowed the gap between the first and second spot the most, though the country’s Lost Decade in the 1990s cut that ascension short.

During the years between 1970 and 2017, the United States was at its most dominant in 2006 when its GDP was triple the size of Japan’s. Of course, in recent years China has narrowed the gap considerably.

A Star Rising in the East

As one would expect, the building blocks of China’s economy looked very different in the 1970s than today.

The communist systems of the USSR and China are both easy to spot in the visualization. Agriculture played an outsized role, and industries like finance, real estate, and retail were understated compared to the profiles of countries that operated under a capitalist system.

In 1980, as the first Special Economic Zones were being created, three-quarters of China’s economy was based on agriculture, resource extraction, and manufacturing. Even as recently as the early ’90s, China wasn’t in the top 10 despite being the world’s most populous country.

Of course, that situation changed drastically over the next two decades. By the dawn of the 21st century, China ranked fifth in the world, and a decade later, China surpassed Japan to become the second largest economy globally.

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How the Top Cryptocurrencies Performed in 2021

Cryptocurrencies had a breakout year in 2021, providing plenty of volatility and strong returns across crypto’s various sectors.

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The Returns of Top Cryptocurrencies in 2021

2021 saw the crypto markets boom and mature, with different sectors flourishing and largely outperforming the market leader, bitcoin.

While bitcoin only managed to return 59.8% last year, the crypto sector’s total market cap grew by 187.5%, with many of the top coins offering four and even five-digit percentage returns.

2021 Crypto Market Roundup

Last year wasn’t just a breakout year for crypto in terms of returns, but also the growing infrastructure’s maturity and resulting decorrelation of individual crypto industries and coins.

Crypto’s infrastructure has developed significantly, and there are now many more onramps for people to buy altcoins that don’t require purchasing and using bitcoin in the process. As a result, many cryptocurrency prices were more dictated by the value and functionality of their protocol and applications rather than their correlation to bitcoin.

CryptocurrencyCategory2021 Returns
BitcoinCryptocurrency59.8%
EthereumSmart Contract Platform399.2%
Binance CoinExchange Token1,268.9%
SolanaSmart Contract Platform11,177.8%
CardanoSmart Contract Platform621.3%
XRPCryptocurrency277.8%
TerraSmart Contract Platform12,967.3%
AvalancheSmart Contract Platform3,334.8%
PolkadotSmart Contract Platform187.9%
DogecoinMeme Coin3,546.0%

Sources: TradingView, Binance, Uniswap, FTX, Bittrex

Bitcoin wasn’t the only cryptocurrency that didn’t manage to reach triple-digit returns in 2021. Litecoin and Bitcoin Cash also provided meagre double-digit percentage returns, as payment-focused cryptocurrencies were largely ignored for projects with smart contract capabilities.

Other older projects like Stellar Lumens (109%) and XRP (278%) provided triple-digit returns, with Cardano (621%) being the best performer of the old guard despite not managing to ship its smart contract functionality last year.

The Rise of the Ethereum Competitors

Ethereum greatly outpaced bitcoin in 2021, returning 399.2% as the popularity boom of NFTs and creation of DeFi 2.0 protocols like Olympus (OHM) expanded possible use-cases.

But with the rise of network activity, a 50% increase in transfers in 2021, Ethereum gas fees surged. From minimums of $20 for a single transaction, to NFT mint prices starting around $40 and going into the hundreds on congested network days, crypto’s retail crowd migrated to other smart contract platforms with lower fees.

Alternative budding smart contract platforms like Solana (11,178%), Avalanche (3,335%), and Fantom (13,207%) all had 4-5 digit percentage returns, as these protocols built out their own decentralized finance ecosystems and NFT markets.

With Ethereum set to merge onto the beacon chain this year, which uses proof of stake instead of proof of work, we’ll see if 2022 brings lower gas fees and retail’s return to Ethereum if the merge is successful.

Dog Coins Meme their Way to the Top

While many new cryptocurrencies with strong functionality and unique use-cases were rewarded with strong returns, it was memes that powered the greatest returns in cryptocurrencies this past year.

Dogecoin’s surge after Elon Musk’s “adoption” saw many other dog coins follow, with SHIB benefitting the most and returning an astounding 19.85 million percent.

But ever since Dogecoin’s run from $0.07 to a high of $0.74 in Q2 of last year, the original meme coin’s price has slowly bled -77% down to $0.17 at the time of writing. After the roller coaster ride of last year, 2022 started with a positive catalyst for Dogecoin holders as Elon Musk announced DOGE can be used to purchase Tesla merchandise.

Gamifying the Crypto Industry

The intersection between crypto, games, and the metaverse became more than just a pipe dream in 2021. Axie Infinity was the first crypto native game to successfully establish a play to earn structure that combines its native token (AXS) and in-game NFTs, becoming a sensation and source of income for many in the Philippines.

Other crypto gaming projects like Defi Kingdoms are putting recognizable game interfaces on decentralized finance applications, with the decentralized exchange becoming the town’s “marketplace” and yield farms being the “gardens” where yield is harvested. This fantasy aesthetic is more than just a new coat of paint, as the project with $1.04B of total value locked is developing an underlying play-to-earn game.

Along with gamification, 2021 saw crypto native and non-crypto developers put a big emphasis on the digital worlds or metaverses users will inhabit. Facebook’s name change to Meta resulted in the two prominent metaverse projects The Sandbox (SAND) and Decentraland (MANA) surge another few hundred percent to finish off the year at 16,261% and 4,104% returns respectively.

With so many eyes on the crypto sector after the 2021’s breakout year, we’ll see how developing U.S. regulation and changing macro conditions affect cryptocurrencies in 2022.

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Energy

The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns (2012-2021)

Energy fuels led the way as commodity prices surged in 2021, with only precious metals providing negative returns.

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commodity returns 2021 preview

The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns (2022 Edition)

For investors, 2021 was a year in which nearly every asset class finished in the green, with commodities providing some of the best returns.

The S&P Goldman Sachs Commodity Index (GSCI) was the third best-performing asset class in 2021, returning 37.1% and beating out real estate and all major equity indices.

This graphic from U.S. Global Investors tracks individual commodity returns over the past decade, ranking them based on their individual performance each year.

Commodity Prices Surge in 2021

After a strong performance from commodities (metals especially) in the year prior, 2021 was all about energy commodities.

The top three performers for 2021 were energy fuels, with coal providing the single best annual return of any commodity over the past 10 years at 160.6%. According to U.S. Global Investors, coal was also the least volatile commodity of 2021, meaning investors had a smooth ride as the fossil fuel surged in price.

Commodity2021 Returns
Coal160.61%
Crude Oil55.01%
Gas46.91%
Aluminum42.18%
Zinc31.53%
Nickel26.14%
Copper25.70%
Corn22.57%
Wheat20.34%
Lead18.32%
Gold-3.64%
Platinum-9.64%
Silver-11.72%
Palladium-22.21%

Source: U.S. Global Investors

The only commodities in the red this year were precious metals, which failed to stay positive despite rising inflation across goods and asset prices. Gold and silver had returns of -3.6% and -11.7% respectively, with platinum returning -9.6% and palladium, the worst performing commodity of 2021, at -22.2%.

Aside from the precious metals, every other commodity managed double-digit positive returns, with four commodities (crude oil, coal, aluminum, and wheat) having their best single-year performances of the past decade.

Energy Commodities Outperform as the World Reopens

The partial resumption of travel and the reopening of businesses in 2021 were both powerful catalysts that fueled the price rise of energy commodities.

After crude oil’s dip into negative prices in April 2020, black gold had a strong comeback in 2021 as it returned 55.01% while being the most volatile commodity of the year.

Natural gas prices also rose significantly (46.91%), with the UK and Europe’s natural gas prices rising even more as supply constraints came up against the winter demand surge.

Energy commodity returns 2021

Despite being the second worst performer of 2020 with the clean energy transition on the horizon, coal was 2021’s best commodity.

High electricity demand saw coal return in style, especially in China which accounts for one-third of global coal consumption.

Base Metals Beat out Precious Metals

2021 was a tale of two metals, as precious metals and base metals had opposing returns.

Copper, nickel, zinc, aluminum, and lead, all essential for the clean energy transition, kept up last year’s positive returns as the EV batteries and renewable energy technologies caught investors’ attention.

Demand for these energy metals looks set to continue in 2022, with Tesla having already signed a $1.5 billion deal for 75,000 tonnes of nickel with Talon Metals.

Metals price performance 2021

On the other end of the spectrum, precious metals simply sunk like a rock last year.

Investors turned to equities, real estate, and even cryptocurrencies to preserve and grow their investments, rather than the traditionally favorable gold (-3.64%) and silver (-11.72%). Platinum and palladium also lagged behind other commodities, only returning -9.64% and -22.21% respectively.

Grains Bring Steady Gains

In a year of over and underperformers, grains kept up their steady track record and notched their fifth year in a row of positive returns.

Both corn and wheat provided double-digit returns, with corn reaching eight-year highs and wheat reaching prices not seen in over nine years. Overall, these two grains followed 2021’s trend of increasing food prices, as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s food price index reached a 10-year high, rising by 17.8% over the course of the year.

Grains price performance 2021

As inflation across commodities, assets, and consumer goods surged in 2021, investors will now be keeping a sharp eye for a pullback in 2022. We’ll have to wait and see whether or not the Fed’s plans to increase rates and taper asset purchases will manage to provide price stability in commodities.

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