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Chart of the Week

Trading Places: Chinese Flee Stocks for Offshore Property [Chart]

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Trading Places: Chinese Flee Stocks for Offshore Property [Chart]

Trading Places: Chinese Flee Stocks for Offshore Property [Chart]

Canadian and Australian housing sales set new monthly records in June

The Chart of the Week is a weekly feature in Visual Capitalist on Fridays.

Every transitioning economy has its growing pains.

This turns out to be especially true when that economy is an unusual Jekyll-Hyde type of hybrid: it’s run by a communist government that favours control, but at the same time wants to harness the growth of free market dynamics.

Over the last two years, the Chinese government has worked to relax margin restrictions. By changing these rules, it would allow more regular folks to borrow on margin to buy into and fuel the stock market. The only problem was that most of the public had never invested before, and intense speculative buying replaced any disciplined search for value or growth.

The market soared to new heights. New investors saw the gains and just kept piling in. Between June 2014 and May 2015, more than 40 million new trading accounts were opened, and many of these new equity investors had less than a high school education.

The Shanghai Composite Index, which tracks shares traded on Shanghai’s stock exchange, climbed over 150% since late 2014.

Then, the party abruptly came to an end. Over the last month, the market crashed and lost about 30% of its value, worth about $3 trillion. The government had taken unprecedented steps to slow down the crash, including halting IPOs, cutting interest rates, and other “stability measures”. Top brokerages even pledged to collectively buy 120 billion yuan ($24 billion) of shares to steady the market. Finally, the China Securities Regulatory Commission banned sales of shares for major investors for six months, and suspended trading in over 1,000 stocks.

The once frothy market has had mixed reactions over the last few days, but remains near its three month low.

The Pacific Connection

While surely some people have lost faith in Chinese stocks as of late, that doesn’t mean money wasn’t made. The market is still up 80% from a year ago and many that were in early made a killing.

What are some of these people doing with their newfound capital? Many are buying real estate in China to store their wealth.

In a survey carried out by the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu, 28,140 respondents were polled between June 15 and July 2. They found that more people were taking money from the stock market and buying property. In Q2, 3.7% of stock investors bought housing compared to 2.3% in the first quarter. Of those that bought property, 70% of households have made money in the stock market.

People from China have also looked abroad to store their wealth in housing. It’s no secret that Canada, Australia, and the United States have all felt the effects of foreign buying in their property markets over the years.

Cities such as Vancouver and Toronto have had an influx of new buyers fueling the boom, and this is part of the reason why Canada is now considered to have the most overvalued housing market in the world.

Sydney and Melbourne have seen similar effects, and Australia was recently ranked by the Economist as the second most overvalued housing market relative to income.

In the United States, the Bay Area continues to also have a bull market in property. Technology plays a big role in this, but foreign buyers have also been helping drive prices there as well. California is a popular destination for Chinese buyers, as 30% of all Asian-Americans reside in the Golden State.

The Numbers

In the month of June, housing prices and the number of sales have reached record levels in some of these markets.

The two hottest Canadian markets remained on fire, despite the country edging into a technical recession. In Vancouver, housing sales were 29.1% higher than the 10-year average for the month of June. This brought the benchmark housing price to C$1.1 million for a detached home. June was the fourth straight month with over 4,000 sales, a new record for the city. Luxury sales rose 48% in the period between January and June compared to last year.

Toronto’s luxury market is even hotter, with sales increasing 56% over the first half of the year. The benchmark housing price in the city for a detached home is now C$1.05 million, a 14.2% increase over the last year.

Two of the more prominent markets in Australia also kept their momentum. In Sydney, prices have soared 22.0% over the last 12 months for homes, to a median price of A$900,000. Melbourne, which started to cool off in the beginning of 2015, found resurgence in June that brought it back to strong double-digit annual growth.

Melbourne, which typically has less expensive homes than Sydney, Vancouver, and Toronto, is starting to join the million dollar club as well. Recently, there are 17 new postal codes that now have homes with A$1 million median prices.

From the Front Lines

The million dollar question is: to what extent do exits from the Chinese stock market and capital flight influence the markets in the above cities. Everyone can agree there is some influence, but narrowing down the specifics is much more difficult.

This is because there are not many official records on the specifics of foreign ownership, and much of the time transactions are done indirectly through family and friends.

Aside from the correlation with the numbers above, there is mainly anecdotal evidence from people on the ground.

In Vancouver, for instance, a Reuters survey found that of 50 land titles for detached Vancouver Westside homes worth over C$2 million, that nearly half of purchasers had surnames typical of mainland China. Five real estate agents primarily focused on sales on Vancouver’s more luxurious west side estimated that between 50% and 80% of their clients had ties to mainland China.

Michael Pallier, the Principal at Sydney Sothebys International Realty, said recently that volatility in the Chinese market was prompting more interest in local properties in the luxury market.

“Last month in our office we sold 20 properties for $115 million turnover in June, of which 25 per cent were sold to Chinese buyers, so we do have a lot of experience dealing with Chinese markets,” said Mr. Pallier, “They’d rather put the money into a property than put it into cash or into shares.”

David Fung, the vice-chair of the Canada China Business council, said that the stock market crash and volatility drives more investments into Canada, including British Columbia’s hot property market.

“They’re not looking necessarily for a very high return because it is for their own insurance,” said Fung.

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Chart of the Week

Can a Shorter Workweek Make People Happier?

The idea of a shorter workweek sounds enticing to most, but would it actually lead to a happier population? We look at the data so far.

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Can A Shorter Workweek Make People Happier?

For many people, the concept of a shorter workweek is enticing. After all, it can be difficult to find enough time for the things we love.

Is it reasonable then, in our quest for happiness, to begin working less? Advocates of a shorter workweek would agree, but these policies have yet to be widely-adopted.

Today’s chart plots data from the World Happiness Report 2019 and the OECD to determine if there’s any correlation between a country’s happiness and average hours worked per person.

What Happens When We Work Too Much?

The unhealthy side effects of working long hours are well established. In extreme cases, however, symptoms can extend beyond the usual stress and fatigue.

For example, the American Heart Association found that people under the age of 50 had a higher risk of stroke when working over 10 hours a day for a decade or more. Another study, conducted across 14 countries, concluded that people who worked long hours were 12% more likely to become excessive drinkers.

If working longer days is so harmful to our well-being, what happens if we work fewer hours instead?

Comparing the Numbers

The tables below list the happiest countries as well as the unhappiest countries in the OECD; happiness scores range from 0 to 10, with a 10 representing the best life possible.

Based on the data, there appears to be some degree of correlation between a person’s happiness and the amount of hours they work.

Here’s how the five happiest countries stack up:

CountryHappiness Score (0-10)5-Yr Average Annual
Hours Worked
Difference in Hours Worked
from OECD Average (1,682 hrs) 
🇫🇮 Finland7.7691,559 hrs-123 hrs
🇩🇰 Denmark7.6001,406 hrs-276 hrs
🇳🇴 Norway7.5541,422 hrs-260 hrs
🇮🇸 Iceland7.4941,491 hrs-191 hrs
🇳🇱 Netherlands7.4881,432 hrs-250 hrs

The five happiest countries each work over 100 hours less than the OECD average. Compare this to the five least happiest countries:

CountryHappiness Score (0-10)5-Yr Average Annual
Hours Worked
Difference in Hours Worked
from OECD Average (1,682 hrs) 
🇬🇷 Greece5.2871,946 hrs+264 hrs
🇹🇷 Turkey5.3731,832 hrs+150 hrs
🇵🇹 Portugal5.6931,722 hrs+40 hrs
🇭🇺 Hungary5.7581,749 hrs+67 hrs
🇯🇵 Japan5.8861,710 hrs*+28 hrs

*OECD data includes full- and part-time workers. While this affects the entire data set, Japan’s high share of part-time workers (37% as of 2017) suggests it is particularly vulnerable to underestimation.

Coincidentally, all five of the least happiest countries work more hours than the OECD average, up to over 264 hours in the case of Greece.

Happiness is multifaceted, though, and we should avoid drawing conclusions from a single variable. For instance, the World Happiness Report 2019 calculates happiness scores based on eight distinct metrics:

 MetricDescription
#1Positive AffectThe average of 3 measures: happiness, laughter, and enjoyment
#2Negative AffectThe average of 3 measures: worry, sadness, and anger
#3Social SupportHaving someone to count on in times of trouble
#4FreedomThe ability to make life choices
#5CorruptionThe perception of corruption throughout business and government
#6GenerosityBased on survey results about charity donations
#7GDP per Capita (Log Scale)Economic output per person
#8Healthy Life ExpectancyYears spent in good health

With these in mind, we can make a few additional observations.

Four of the five happiest OECD countries are located in the Nordics, a region known for low corruption rates and robust social safety nets. On the other end of the scale, economic hardship is a recurring theme among the OECD’s least happiest countries. The falling Turkish lira and Greece’s debt crisis are two significant examples.

To properly measure the happiness-boosting potential of a shortened workweek, it seems we need to isolate its effects.

Challenging the Status Quo

Employers are now experimenting with shorter work schedules to see if happier employees are in fact better employees.

Case 1: Successful Trial

Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand-based estate planning firm, trialed a four-day workweek for two months with no changes to compensation.

The trial was hailed as a success. Employee stress levels fell by 7 percentage points while overall life satisfaction rose by 5 percentage points. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that productivity remained the same.

Employees designed a number of innovations and initiatives to work in a more productive and efficient manner.

– Helen Delaney, University of Auckland

Following the trial, the firm’s founder expressed interest in implementing the four-day workweek on a permanent basis.

Case 2: Successful Trial with Trade-offs

Filimundus, a Sweden-based software studio, trialed a six-hour workday in 2014. Staff reception was positive, and the company has since adopted it permanently.

There were trade-offs, however. While staff enjoyed more time for their private lives, productivity across different departments saw mixed results.

We did see some decrease in production for some staff, mostly our artists, but an increase in production for our programmers. So money-wise, in costs, it evened out.

– Linus Feldt, CEO

Interestingly, the studio also trialed a seven-hour workday, and saw no positive effects.

Case 3: An Unsustainable Solution

Public healthcare workers in Gothenburg, Sweden, trialed a six-hour workday for two years. Similar to the first case, compensation was unchanged.

While the trial achieved good results—staff experienced lower stress levels and patients received a higher level of care—the policy was unsustainable.

It’s far too expensive to carry out a general shortening of working hours within a reasonable time frame.

– Daniel Bernmar

17 additional staff were hired to compensate for the shorter workdays, increasing the local government’s payroll by $738,000. The city council did note, however, that lower unemployment costs offset this increase by approximately 10%.

Picking Up Momentum

These experiments are garnering attention from around the world.

Even Japan, a country known for its “overtime culture”, is getting in on the action. Microsoft offices in the East Asian country tested a four-day workweek in August 2019, and reported happier staff, as well as an impressive 40% boost in productivity.

While the results of these early experiments are indeed promising, they’ve exposed the nuances that exist between industries and job types, and the need for further trials. One thing is certain though—shorter workweek policies should not be interpreted as a “one size fits all” solution for happier lives.

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Chart of the Week

Ranked: The Social Mobility of 82 Countries

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Ranked: The Social Mobility of 82 Countries

It’s an unfortunate truth that a person’s opportunities can be partially tethered to their socioeconomic status at birth.

Although winning or losing the “birth lottery” will continue to shape the lives of generations to come, climbing the socioeconomic ladder is possible. However, it boils down to what opportunities people are afforded in the country they live in.

Today’s chart pulls data from the inaugural Global Social Mobility report produced by the World Economic Forum. The report ranks 82 countries according to their performance across five key pillars: healthcare, education, technology access, working conditions, and social protection.

While most countries aim to create a level playing field, which places best live up to this lofty and challenging mission?

The Spectrum of Social Mobility

Social mobility refers to the movement of individuals either up or down the socioeconomic ladder relative to their current standing, such as a low-income family moving up to become a part of the middle class.

Countries with high levels of social mobility exhibit lower levels of income inequality and provide more equally shared opportunities for its citizens across each of the five pillars.

Here is how all 82 countries rank, according to the report:

RankingCountriesIndex Score
#1Denmark85.2
#2Norway83.6
#3Finland83.6
#4Sweden83.5
#5Iceland82.7
#6Netherlands82.4
#7Switzerland82.1
#8Belgium80.1
#9Austria80.1
#10Luxembourg79.8
#11Germany78.8
#12France76.7
#13Slovenia76.4
#14Canada76.1
#15Japan76.1
#16Australia75.1
#17Malta75.0
#18Ireland75.0
#19Czech Republic74.7
#20Singapore74.6
#21United Kingdom74.4
#22New Zealand74.3
#23Estonia73.5
#24Portugal72.0
#25Korean Republic71.4
#26Lithuania70.5
#27United States70.4
#28Spain70.0
#29Cyprus69.4
#30Poland69.1
#31Latvia69.0
#32Slovak Republic68.5
#33Israel68.1
#34Italy67.4
#35Uruguay67.1
#36Croatia66.7
#37Hungary65.8
#38Kazakhstan64.8
#39Russian Federation64.7
#40Bulgaria63.8
#41Serbia63.8
#42Romania63.1
#43Malaysia62.0
#44Costa Rica61.6
#45China61.5
#46Ukraine61.2
#47Chile60.3
#48Greece59.8
#49Moldova59.6
#50Vietnam57.8
#51Argentina57.3
#52Saudi Arabia57.1
#53Georgia55.6
#54Albania55.6
#55Thailand55.4
#56Armenia53.9
#57Ecuador53.9
#58Mexico52.6
#59Sri Lanka52.3
#60Brazil52.1
#61Philippines51.7
#62Tunisia51.7
#63Panama51.4
#64Turkey51.3
#65Colombia50.3
#66Peru49.9
#67Indonesia49.3
#68El Salvador47.4
#69Paraguay46.8
#70Ghana45.5
#71Egypt44.8
#72Laos43.8
#73Morocco43.7
#74Honduras43.5
#75Guatemala43.5
#76India42.7
#77South Africa41.4
#78Bangladesh40.2
#79Pakistan36.7
#80Cameroon36
#81Senegal36.0
#82Côte d’Ivoire34.5

There are a number of countries that set an example for social mobility that others can follow.

The Mobility Medal Winners

All of the countries in the top 10 are European, but it is the Nordic countries that sit comfortably at the top of the ranks.

Denmark holds the title for the most socially mobile country in the world, boasting an index score of 85.2. If a person is born into a low-income family in Denmark, the WEF estimates it would take two generations to reach a median income. In contrast, someone in Brazil or South Africa would take nine generations at the current pace of growth.

As one of the few non-European countries in the top 20, Canada also performs well across the majority of pillars, but similarly to Denmark, it could improve in the area of lifelong learning which includes providing support for the unemployed and teaching digital skills.

The Least Socially Mobile Countries

Developing country Côte d’Ivoire sits at the bottom of the ranks, with an index score of just 34.5. As a nation once ravaged by internal conflict and turbulent economic shifts, the resulting poverty rate remains high at 46.3%.

While the government has made improvements to its basic social services, the country falls behind on categories like access to education and fair wages, and retains the highest gender inequality rate in the world.

Despite a significant decrease in the percentage of people living in absolute poverty, India ranks low on the index in 76th place. Structural reform is required across all pillars if India is to increase its score, especially in relation to fair wages and education.

Why Invest in Social Mobility?

According to the report, most economies are far from providing fair conditions for their citizens to thrive, with the greatest challenges ranging from lack of social protection and low wages to poor lifelong learning systems.

Countries that fail to invest in the key pillars of social mobility could experience damaging consequences for governments and citizens alike:

  • Precarity (the unpredictability of living without secure and well-paid employment)
  • Perceived loss of identity and dignity
  • Weakening social fabric
  • Eroding trust in institutions
  • Disenchantment with political processes

Aside from the social returns, the economic impact of investing in the right blend of social mobility pillars could be substantial.

Calculating the True Cost

The report dives into the opportunity cost of low social mobility and finds that if each country increased its score by just 10 index points, it could result in an extra 4.41% of cumulative GDP growth for the global economy by 2030—equal to $5.1 trillion.

China alone could add $1 trillion of GDP growth by 2030 if a 10 point increase is achieved:

social mobility true cost

Although social mobility can act as an economic lever, many countries are struggling to provide the optimal conditions for their citizens to thrive. For those countries, globalization and technology may continue to exacerbate income inequality.

If countries are unable to create new social mobility pathways towards more inclusive economies, they risk being stuck in a cycle where inequality remains entrenched—and history continues to repeats itself.

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