Nothing has transformed our economy quite like containerized shipping.
From Rotterdam to Singapore, we see tangible evidence of the world’s bustling maritime shipping network as cranes load and unload uniform containers in a flurry of activity. The efficiency of this system has massively impacted the global economy, but this uniformity has also had the unintended consequence of anonymizing shipping. From the outside looking in, there’s no indication of who’s actually doing the shipping.
Today’s graphic, using data from JOC, highlights the actual companies behind the United States’ import–export numbers.
Outgoing: Recyclables and Raw Materials
While companies like Procter & Gamble and Caterpillar export a high volume of consumer goods and equipment, the export market is dominated by bulk materials, natural resources, and chemicals.
Here are the top 20 companies by export volume (20-foot equivalent units, or TEUs):
|1||America Chung Nam||284,500||📄 Paper
|2||International Paper||248,400||📄 Paper
|3||Ralison International||130,100||📄 Paper
|4||Koch Industries||120,800||💼 Conglomerate|
|5||International Forest Products||109,400||🌲 Paper/Forest Products
|6||DeLong||106,600||🐮 Animal Feed
|7||WM Recycle America||75,300||💼 Diversified
|9||Louis Dreyfus Commodities||68,200||⚪️ Cotton
|11||JBS USA||65,400||🍖 Meats
|12||ExxonMobil Chemical||63,400||🛢 Chemicals|
|13||Newport CH International||62,100||♻️ Recyclables|
|14||BMW of North America||61,600||🚘 Automotive Goods|
|16||JC Horizon||55,600||♻️ Recyclables|
|17||Eastman Chemical||53,800||🛢 Chemicals/Plastics|
|18||Potential Industries||51,600||📄 Paper
|19||Domtar||48,100||🌲 Paper/Forest Products|
|20||Sims Metal Management||47,700||⚙️ Metals
Note: TEU = Twenty-foot equivalent unit, a measure of volume in units of twenty-foot long shipping containers.
Though exporters of recyclable materials feature prominently on this list, there may be a shake-up coming in the near future.
China’s Recycling Diet
In Western countries, people often assume that their top export by volume is a high-value manufactured good or, at very least, a natural resource like timber or oil. The truth is, a sizable portion of exports from Western countries are waste materials.
This isn’t a new trend. In 2009, nine of the top 20 exporters in the U.S. were sending recyclable materials overseas – particularly to China.
This convenient trade relationship, where ships bring consumer goods to America and return filled with recyclable materials, is being disrupted in a big way. In 2018, China launched Operation National Sword, which could potentially tie a knot in the steady pipeline of waste materials being imported into the country.
For now, countries like Vietnam and Thailand have picked up some of the slack, but before long, Western countries will need to take a serious look at beefing up domestic recycling programs.
Incoming: The Stuff We Buy
On the other end of the equation are the consumer goods that get purchased every day.
In modern society, there’s a very good chance the items around you right now were not built in the country you live in. While many companies import goods from overseas, a few major players move a staggering volume of goods through America’s ports.
Here are the top 20 companies by import volume (TEUs):
|3||Home Depot||388,000||🛒 Retail|
|5||Dole Food||220,200||🍍 Produce|
|6||Samsung America||184,800||💼 Conglomerate|
|7||Family Dollar / Dollar Tree||168,400||🛒 Retail|
|8||LG Group||161,600||💼 Conglomerate|
|9||Philips Electronics N.A.||142,900||📺 Electronics|
|10||IKEA International||120,500||🛒 Retail|
|11||Chiquita Brands Int'l||117,500||🍌 Produce|
|12||Nike||116,300||👞 Footwear / Apparel|
|13||Newell Brands||115,400||🍶 Outdoor / Home Goods|
|14||Costco Wholesale||111,700||🛒 Retail|
|15||Sears Holdings||103,200||🛒 Retail|
|16||J.C. Penney||101,100||🛒 Retail|
|17||General Electric||92,300||💼 Conglomerate|
|18||Ashley Furniture Industries||85,700||🛋 Furniture|
|20||Heineken USA||73,100||🍺 Beverages|
In contrast to the top exporters list, the top importing companies are generally more recognizable names, such as Target, Home Depot, Dollar Tree, and Ikea.
It will come as no surprise that Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer by some margin, is also America’s top importer. In a single year, Walmart’s incoming goods would equate to nearly 50 of the industry’s largest fully-loaded cargo ships.
An Investing Megatrend: How Demographics and Social Changes are Shaping the Future
As societies evolve, demographics and social change also evolve, reshaping the world and resulting in new investment opportunities.
For millennia, people have found support and community through defining factors, ranging from age and race to income and education levels.
However, these characteristics are not static—and drastic demographic changes are starting to create powerful ripple effects in the 21st-century economy.
The Impact of Demographics and Social Changes
Today’s infographic from BlackRock delves into the significant impact that demographics and human rights movements have on global markets. Of the five megatrends explored in this series, demographics are predicted to have the farthest-reaching impact.
What are Demographics?
Demographics are the characteristics of populations that change over time. These include:
- Birth and death rates
- Education levels
- Income levels
- Average family size
As a result, major demographic trends offer both unique challenges and opportunities for businesses, societies, and investors.
The Biggest Shifts
What are the biggest shifts in demographics that the world faces today?
1. Aging Population
The global population is aging rapidly─as fertility rates decline worldwide, those in the 65 years and older age bracket are steadily increasing in numbers.
2. Future Workforce
As the population continues to age, fewer people are available to sustain the working population. For the first time in recorded history, the number of people in developed nations between 20 to 64 years old is expected to shrink in 2020.
3. Immigration Increase
Immigration has been steadily increasing since the turn of the 21st century. Primary migration factors range from the serious (political turmoil) to the hopeful (better job offers).
In particular, areas such as Asia and Europe see much higher movement than others, causing a strain on resources in those regions.
4. Consumer Spending
A steadily aging population is slowly shifting the purchasing power to older households. In Japan, for example, half of all current household spending comes from people over 60, compared with 13% of spending from people under 40.
How Does Social Change Play a Part?
Demographics are the characteristics of people that change over time, whereas social change is the evolution of people’s behaviours or cultural norms over time.
Strong social change movements have often been influenced by demographic changes, including:
- Ending poverty and hunger
- Expanding healthcare in developing nations
- Reforming education quality and accessibility
- Championing gender and racial equality
Examples of major human rights movements include creating stronger environmental policies and securing women’s right to vote.
Opportunities for Investors
These changes pose some exciting opportunities for investors, both now and in the near future.
Global healthcare spending is predicted to grow from US$7.7 trillion in 2017 to over US$10 trillion in 2022. To meet the demands of age-related illnesses, companies will need solutions that offer quality care at much lower costs—for patients and an overburdened healthcare system.
With a declining working population, adapting a workforce’s skill set may be the key to keeping economies afloat.
As automation becomes commonplace, workers will need to develop more advanced skills to stay competitive. Newer economies will need to ensure that automation supports a shrinking workforce, without restricting job and wage growth.
By 2100, over 50% of the world will be living in either India, China, or Africa.
Global policy leadership and sales of education goods and services will be shaped less by issues and needs in the U.S., and more by the issues and needs of Africa, South Asia, and China.
—Shannon May, CoFounder of Bridge International Academies
In the future, education and training in these growing regions will be based on skills relevant to the modern workforce and shifting global demographics.
Spending power will continue to migrate to older populations. Global consumer spending from those over 60 years is predicted to nearly double, from US$8 trillion in 2010 to a whopping US$15 trillion in 2020.
Demographics and social changes are the undercurrents of many economic, cultural, and business decisions. They underpin all other megatrends and will significantly influence how the world evolves.
As demographics shift over time, we will see the priorities of economies shift as well─and these changes will continue to offer new opportunities for investors to make an impact for the future of a global society.
Ranked: Which Economies Are the Most Competitive?
The world’s top countries excel in many fields—but there can only be one #1. How have the most competitive economies shifted in the past decade?
Ranked: Which Economies Are the Most Competitive?
What makes a country successful from an economic perspective? Many think of this in terms of GDP per capita—but in a rapidly changing world, our definitions of progress have evolved to encompass much more.
This animated Chart of the Week visualizes 10 years of global competitiveness, according to the World Economic Forum, and tracks how rankings have changed in this time.
How Do You Measure Competition?
The WEF’s annual Global Competitiveness Report defines the concept of ‘competitiveness’ as an economy’s productivity—and the institutions, policies, and factors which shape this.
This year’s edition unpacks the national competitiveness of 141 countries, using the newly-introduced Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) 4.0 which looks at four key metrics:
- Enabling Environment
Includes: Institutions, Infrastructure, ICT Adoption*, Macroeconomic Activity
*Refers to information and communications technology
- Human Capital
Includes: Health, Skills
Includes: Product Market, Labor Market, Financial System, Market Size
- Innovation Ecosystem
Includes: Business Dynamics, Innovation Capability
Each country’s overall competitiveness score is an average of these 12 main pillars of productivity. With that out of the way, let’s dive into the countries which emerge triumphant.
The Most Competitive: Movers and Shakers
The world’s top countries excel in many fields—but there can only be one #1. In 2019, Singapore wins the coveted “most competitive economy” title, with a 84.8 score on the GCI.
The nation’s developed infrastructure, health, labor market, and financial system have all propelled it forward—swapping with the U.S. (83.7) for the top spot. However, more can be done, as the report notes Singapore still lacks press freedom and demonstrates a low commitment to sustainability.
How have the current scores of the most competitive economies improved or fallen behind, compared to 2018?
|Rank||Economy||2019 Score||2018 Score||2018-2019 Change|
|#2||🇺🇸 United States||83.7||85.6||-2|
|#3||🇭🇰 Hong Kong||83.1||82.3||+0.9|
|#9||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||81.2||82||-0.8|
Finland (80.2) and Canada (79.6) are notable exits from this top 10 list over the years. Meanwhile, Denmark (81.2) disappeared from the rankings for five years, but managed to climb back up in 2018.
Regional Competitiveness: Highs and Lows
Another perspective on the most competitive economies is to look at how countries fare within regions, and how these regions compete among each other.
Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has the widest gap in competitiveness scores—Israel (76.7) scores over double that of poorest-performing Yemen (35.5). Interestingly, the MENA region showed the most progress, growing its median score by 2.77% between 2018-2019.
The narrowest gap is actually in South Asia, with just a single-digit difference between India (61.4) and Nepal (51.6). However, the region also grew the slowest, with only 0.08% increase in median score over a year.
|Region||Best Performer||2019 Score||Worst Performer||2019 Score||Regional
|Europe and North America||🇺🇸 United States||83.7||🇧🇦 Bosnia & Herzegovina||54.7||29|
|Latin America and the Caribbean||🇨🇱 Chile||70.5||🇭🇹 Haiti||36.3||34.2|
|East Asia and Pacific||🇸🇬 Singapore||84.8||🇱🇦 Laos||50.1||34.7|
|South Asia||🇮🇳 India||61.4||🇳🇵 Nepal||51.6||9.8|
|Eurasia||🇷🇺 Russia||66.7||🇹🇯 Tajikistan||52.4||14.3|
|Middle East and North Africa||🇮🇱 Israel||76.7||🇾🇪 Yemen||35.5||41.2|
|Sub-Saharan Africa||🇲🇺 Mauritius||64.3||🇹🇩 Chad||35.1||29.2|
Across all regions, the WEF found that East Asia’s 73.9 median score was the highest. Europe and North America were not far behind with a 70.9 median score. This is consistent with the fact that the most competitive economies have all come from these regions in the past decade.
As all these countries race towards the frontier—an ideal state where productivity growth is not constrained—the report notes that competitiveness “does not imply a zero-sum game”. Instead, any and all countries are capable of improving their productivity according to the GCI measures.
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