Infographic: Vancouver Real Estate Mania
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Infographic: Vancouver Real Estate Mania

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Vancouver Real Estate Mania

Vancouver Real Estate Mania

On January 29th, 2016, Vancouver went crazy.

The story of a humble 86-year-old home in Vancouver’s Point Grey neighbourhood was widely circulated by national media outlets and became a lightning rod for local frustration with skyrocketing property values.

The “knockdown”, with its rotting walls and $2.4 million asking price, perfectly underscored how crazy the region’s overheated housing market had gotten.

A month later, the house was sold for $80,000 above its asking price, rekindling public outrage.

How did Vancouver reach this point?

This infographic’s purpose is to connect the dots between Vancouver’s history of speculation, demographic waves, public policy, and external pressures that have all had a hand in shaping today’s hot real estate market in the city.

Let’s start at the very beginning…

Chapter One: Birth of a Boomtown

In a surprise move in the late 19th century, the Canadian Pacific Railway announced that the tiny town of Granville would become the terminus of the future Trans-Canada Railway. Granville, with just 400 people, is now the nucleus of Vancouver – and the well-connected men who had conveniently purchased property in the area made a fortune as prices rocketed up.

By the close of 1888, the local newspaper was packed with property speculation ads, and Vancouver real estate companies outnumbered restaurants by a margin of over 250%.

These bets on real estate weren’t in vain. Vancouver actually outpaced all major West Coast cities in growth between 1900 and 1910. While Seattle and San Francisco grew at 194% and 22% respectively, Vancouver’s population soared by a clip of 271% over the same period.

Chapter Two: Expo 86

Hosting the 1986 World Exposition was a pivotal moment in Vancouver’s history. The legacy of Expo is far-reaching, including: rapid transit, new neighbourhoods, a connected seawall, increased investment, and a new stadium (BC Place).

The 70 hectare (173 acre) Expo site was carved out of industrial land and the former Canadian Pacific Railway yard. Once the fair ended, the provincial government looked to sell off the entire block of land for redevelopment.

In 1988, after recognizing the potential of the site, Hong Kong businessman Li Ka-Shing formed Concord Pacific and purchased the site for $320 million.

Chapter Three: Hong Kong Loves Vancouver Real Estate

In the 1990s, there was much trepidation in Hong Kong over the looming handover of the colony to China. Many people were looking to move themselves and their money to a more stable market. Concord Pacific, and Li Ka-Shing’s name, sparked enormous interest in the Vancouver real estate market.

Other Hong Kong businessmen also got in the development game in Vancouver. Cheng Yu-tung’s company built International Village and Sun Hung Kai Properties is now well-known for being the driving force behind Coal Harbour.

Immigration from Hong Kong, coupled with an influx of Canadians from other provinces, led to drastic home price increases during the early ’90s. The fabric of the city was changing, and existing residents were vocal about it. The “Monster House” debate raged in the local media throughout the decade.

Chapter Four: The Welcome Mat

During the same year as Expo 86, the Canadian Federal government and the Quebec government wanted to use immigration to bolster their economies. They created programs such as the Immigrant Investor Program (IIP) and the Quebec Immigrant Investor Program (QIIP) to attract wealthy foreigners.

Between the two programs, there were over 110,000 approvals to come to Canada between 2002 and 2014. (Note: From 2007 to 2012, the United States only accepted 19,433 wealthy immigrants through its EB-5 program)

The Quebec Loophole
A recent study tracked the addresses of 5,120 Quebec immigrant investors who arrived from 2000 to 2008. An astonishing 94% of the newly-arrived investors eventually had an address in British Columbia and most were living in the Vancouver area.

The Quebec government now has a quota of 1,330 applications per year from China. Assuming those applicants migrate to Vancouver at similar rates as in previous years, the flow of multi-millionaire immigrants will continue for some time.

Chapter Five: Vancouver’s Housing Feeding Frenzy

Fast forward to 2016. Vancouver is seeing record-breaking prices, and the momentum for single-family homes is showing no signs of slowing down.

In April 2016, the average detached home in Greater Vancouver sold for $1.82 million, which is a 30% increase year over year. That was not a typo – the price of a detached home in Vancouver is now nearly twice that of Greater Toronto ($968k), and multiples higher than Calgary ($540k) or Montreal ($343k).

Record high prices aren’t dampening sales though. In 2016, sales have been brisk with nearly 17,000 houses sold in the first four months of the year. Many of these have sold for significant sums above their asking prices.

Chapter Six: Business is Booming

In response to skyrocketing detached home prices, Vancouverites are increasingly living in condos. Residential development construction is practically propping up British Columbia’s economy.

BC had the highest GDP growth in the country in 2015, and it’s expected to put up strong numbers in 2016 as well. Between April 2015 and April 2016, BC accounted for 110,000 of Canada’s 144,000 net new jobs with construction leading the way.

Business is so good that the value of building permits broke a new city record in 2015 with over $3 billion. There were at least 10 major construction projects – each valued at more than $50 million – approved over the course of the year.

And Vancouver realtors? They’re doing well.

With so much money to be made selling property and condos, the Vancouver real estate industry is thriving. The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver says licensed membership is at an all-time high.

Chapter Seven: Locals are Getting Fed Up

The dream of owning a home is getting further out of reach even for well-off Vancouverites. Surging home prices and stricter down-payment rules mean that it can take over two decades to save up a down payment for a home.

Vancouverites seeking relief from the super-heated single family home prices won’t find it elsewhere in the market. The median condo price in Vancouver is up over 40% since 2014.

Renters are not immune to price increases either, as price-to-rent ratios are way out of whack in Metro Vancouver. According to real estate website Trulia, in nearby Seattle it takes 14.5 years of rent to equal the price of a house. In Vancouver, it takes 36.9 years.

Lastly, many residents worry that this red-hot demand is obliterating Vancouver’s character. Land values are so high that viable housing is often demolished to make way for new buildings. As a result, thousands of homes are torn down each year.

Chapter Eight: Is This Growth Sustainable?

The experts are far from reaching a consensus on whether Vancouver’s market can continue on as it is now.

On one hand, experts such as Stéfane Marion (Chief Economist, National Bank) say that growth in the working age population in Vancouver is 70% higher than the national average, and it can help sustain home price inflation. Meanwhile, Thomas Davidoff, an Associate Professor of Economics at UBC, points out that if Vancouver is a magnet for China, this housing run could continue for quite a while.

Davidoff may be onto something – there were 9,000 Chinese millionaires that emigrated from Mainland China in 2015, and there are 654,000 millionaires still in China today. The latter number is expected to double by 2025. It’s also noteworthy that in a recent poll by Barclays that 47% of Chinese millionaires expressed a desire to move abroad in the “next five years”.

The contrasting view, of course, is that Vancouver is in a bubble that is overdue for popping.

Marc Cohodes, a famous Wall Street short-seller we recently profiled in another recent chart we did on Canadian housing, argues that Vancouver is a casino in which residents feel pressured to play, otherwise they miss out. Meanwhile, David Madani, the Senior Canadian Economist at Capital Economics, says that severe overvaluation, high household debt, and overbuilding is going to make the housing correction end in a way that is deeper and more prolonged than initially feared.

The Bank of Canada has sounded the alarm on household debt recently, and “unsustainable debt” per household has soared in the country. Between 2008 and 2014, the amount of Canadian households with debt-to-income ratios greater than 250% jumped from 28% to 40% of all households.

Which province is home to the highest rate of households with “unsustainable debt”? BC, of course.

Vancouver’s parabolic prices may eventually cool down, but in the near-term, Vancouver real estate mania is here to stay.

All of the World's Money and Markets in One Visualization

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All of the World’s Money and Markets in One Visualization (2022)

From the wealth held to billionaires to all debt in the global financial system, we look at the vast universe of money and markets in 2022.

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All of the World’s Money and Markets in One Visualization

The era of easy money is now officially over.

For 15 years, policymakers have tried to stimulate the global economy through money creation, zero interest-rate policies, and more recently, aggressive COVID fiscal stimulus.

With capital at near-zero costs over this stretch, investors started to place more value on cash flows in the distant future. Assets inflated and balance sheets expanded, and money inevitably chased more speculative assets like NFTs, crypto, or unproven venture-backed startups.

But the free money party has since ended, after persistent inflation prompted the sudden reversal of many of these policies. And as Warren Buffett says, it’s only when the tide goes out do you get to see “who’s been swimming naked.”

Measuring Money and Markets in 2022

Every time we publish this visualization, our common unit of measurement is a two-dimensional box with a value of $100 billion.

Even though you need many of these to convey the assets on the balance sheet of the U.S. Federal Reserve, or the private wealth held by the world’s billionaires, it’s quite amazing to think what actually fits within this tiny building block of measurement:

What fits in a $100 billion box?

Our little unit of measurement is enough to pay for the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, while also buying every team in the NHL and digging FTX out of its financial hole several times over.

Here’s an overview of all the items we have listed in this year’s visualization:

Asset categoryValueSourceNotes
SBF (Peak Net Worth)$26 billionBloombergNow sits at <$1B
Pro Sports Teams$340 billionForbesMajor pro teams in North America
Cryptocurrency$760 billionCoinMarketCapPeaked at $2.8T in 2021
Ukraine GDP$130 billionWorld BankComparable to GDP of Mississippi
Russia GDP$1.8 trillionWorld BankThe world's 11th largest economy
Annual Military Spending$2.1 trillionSIPRI2021 data
Physical currency$8.0 trillionBIS2020 data
Gold$11.5 trillionWorld Gold CouncilThere are 205,238 tonnes of gold in existence
Billionaires$12.7 trillionForbesSum of fortunes of all 2,668 billionaires
Central Bank Assets$28.0 trillionTrading EconomicsFed, BoJ, Bank of China, and Eurozone only
S&P 500$36.0 trillionSlickchartsNov 20, 2022
China GDP$17.7 trillionWorld Bank
U.S. GDP$23.0 trillionWorld Bank
Narrow Money Supply$49.0 trillionTrading EconomicsIncludes US, China, Euro Area, Japan only
Broad Money Supply $82.7 trillionTrading EconomicsIncludes US, China, Euro Area, Japan only
Global Equities$95.9 trillionWFELatest available 2022 data
Global Debt$300.1 trillionIIFQ2 2022
Global Real Estate$326.5 trillionSavills2020 data
Global Private Wealth$463.6 trillionCredit Suisse2022 report
Derivatives (Market)$12.4 trillionBIS
Derivatives (Notional)$600 trillionBIS

Has the Dust Settled Yet?

Through previous editions of our All the World’s Money and Markets visualization, we’ve created snapshots of the world’s assets and markets at different points in time.

For example, in our 2017 edition of this visualization, Apple’s market capitalization was only $807 billion, and all crypto assets combined for $173 billion. The global debt total was at $215 trillion.

Asset2017 edition2022 editionChange (%)
Apple market cap$807 billion$2.3 trillion+185%
Crypto$173 billion$760 billion+339%
Fed Balance Sheet$4.5 trillion$8.7 trillion+93%
Stock Markets$73 trillion$95.9 trillion+31%
Global Debt$215 trillion$300 trillion+40%

And in just five years, Apple nearly quadrupled in size (it peaked at $3 trillion in January 2022), and crypto also expanded into a multi-trillion dollar market until it was brought back to Earth through the 2022 crash and subsequent FTX implosion.

Meanwhile, global debt continues to accumulate—growing by $85 trillion in the five-year period.

With interest rates expected to continue to rise, companies making cost cuts, and policymakers reining in spending and borrowing, today is another unique snapshot in time.

Now that the easy money era is over, where do things go from here?

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Ranked: The World’s 100 Biggest Pension Funds

The world’s 100 largest pension funds are worth over $17 trillion in total. Which ones are the biggest, and where are they located?

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A preview image of some of the largest pension funds in the world. The Government Pension Investment Fund in Japan is the biggest at $1.7 trillion in assets.

Ranked: The World’s 100 Biggest Pension Funds

View the high-resolution of the infographic by clicking here.

Despite economic uncertainty, pension funds saw relatively strong growth in 2021. The world’s 100 biggest pension funds are worth over $17 trillion in total, an increase of 8.5% over the previous year.

This graphic uses data from the Thinking Ahead Institute to rank the world’s biggest pension funds, and where they are located.

What is a Pension Fund?

A pension fund is a fund that is designed to provide retirement income. This ranking covers four different types:

  • Sovereign funds: Funds controlled directly by the state. This ranking only includes sovereign funds that are established by national authorities.
  • Public sector funds: Funds that cover public sector workers, such as government employees and teachers, in provincial or state sponsored plans.
  • Private independent funds: Funds controlled by private sector organizations that are authorized to manage pension plans from different employers.
  • Corporate funds: Funds that cover workers in company sponsored pension plans.

Among the largest funds, public sector funds are the most common.

The Largest Pension Funds, Ranked

Here are the top 100 pension funds, organized from largest to smallest.

RankFundMarketTotal Assets
1Government Pension Investment Fund🇯🇵 Japan$1.7T
2Government Pension Fund🇳🇴 Norway$1.4T
3National Pension🇰🇷 South Korea$798.0B
4Federal Retirement Thrift🇺🇸 U.S.$774.2B
5ABP🇳🇱 Netherlands$630.4B
6California Public Employees🇺🇸 U.S.$496.8B
7Canada Pension🇨🇦 Canada$426.7B
8National Social Security🇨🇳 China$406.8B
9Central Provident Fund🇸🇬 Singapore$375.0B
10PFZW🇳🇱 Netherlands$315.5B
11California State Teachers🇺🇸 U.S.$313.9B
12New York State Common🇺🇸 U.S.$267.8B
13New York City Retirement🇺🇸 U.S.$266.7B
14Local Government Officials🇯🇵 Japan$248.6B
15Employees Provident Fund🇲🇾 Malaysia$242.6B
16Florida State Board🇺🇸 U.S.$213.8B
17Texas Teachers🇺🇸 U.S.$196.7B
18Ontario Teachers🇨🇦 Canada$191.1B
19National Wealth Fund🇷🇺 Russia$180.7B
20AustralianSuper🇦🇺 Australia$169.1B
21Labor Pension Fund🇹🇼 Taiwan$168.9B
22Washington State Board🇺🇸 U.S.$161.5B
23Public Institute for Social Security🇰🇼 Kuwait$160.0B
24ATP🇩🇰 Denmark$155.4B
25Wisconsin Investment Board🇺🇸 U.S.$147.9B
26Future Fund🇦🇺 Australia$147.9B
27Boeing🇺🇸 U.S.$147.2B
28Employees' Provident🇮🇳 India$145.0B
29New York State Teachers🇺🇸 U.S.$144.4B
30North Carolina🇺🇸 U.S.$137.1B
31Alecta🇸🇪 Sweden$136.7B
32GEPF🇿🇦 South Africa$129.1B
33California University🇺🇸 U.S.$125.3B
34Bayerische Versorgungskammer🇩🇪 Germany$122.0B
35Ohio Public Employees🇺🇸 U.S.$121.6B
36AT&T🇺🇸 U.S.$119.5B
37Public Service Pension Plan🇨🇦 Canada$117.9B
38National Federation of Mutual Aid🇯🇵 Japan$117.1B
39Metaal/tech. Bedrijven🇳🇱 Netherlands$115.8B
40IBM🇺🇸 U.S.$115.4B
41Universities Superannuation🇬🇧 UK$111.2B
42Virginia Retirement🇺🇸 U.S.$110.0B
43Pension Fund Association🇯🇵 Japan$109.8B
44Raytheon Technologies🇺🇸 U.S.$108.9B
45Michigan Retirement🇺🇸 U.S.$108.0B
46Aware Super🇦🇺 Australia$107.5B
47New Jersey🇺🇸 U.S.$104.5B
48Minnesota State Board🇺🇸 U.S.$102.9B
49PFA Pension🇩🇰 Denmark$102.7B
50Kaiser🇺🇸 U.S.$101.0B
51Georgia Teachers🇺🇸 U.S.$100.9B
52Oregon Public Employees🇺🇸 U.S.$100.4B
53Massachusetts PRIM🇺🇸 U.S.$98.5B
54Qsuper🇦🇺 Australia$96.5B
55General Motors🇺🇸 U.S.$96.1B
56Ontario Municipal Employees🇨🇦 Canada$95.7B
57Ohio State Teachers🇺🇸 U.S.$95.1B
58AP Fonden 7🇸🇪 Sweden$94.4B
59Healthcare of Ontario🇨🇦 Canada$90.5B
60General Electric🇺🇸 U.S.$90.5B
61Employees' Pension Fund🇮🇳 India$89.5B
62Bouwnijverheid🇳🇱 Netherlands$88.5B
63UPS🇺🇸 U.S.$86.8B
64United Nations Joint Staff🇺🇸 U.S.$86.2B
65Lockheed Martin🇺🇸 U.S.$85.7B
66Quebec Pension🇨🇦 Canada$81.4B
67National Public Service🇯🇵 Japan$79.9B
68Tennessee Consolidated🇺🇸 U.S.$79.0B
69Royal Bank of Scotland Group🇬🇧 UK$78.3B
70Bank of America🇺🇸 U.S.$76.3B
71BT Group🇬🇧 UK$74.3B
72Keva🇫🇮 Finland$73.3B
73Ford🇺🇸 U.S.$72.8B
74PME🇳🇱 Netherlands$72.7B
75Los Angeles County Employees🇺🇸 U.S.$72.7B
76Quebec Government & Public🇨🇦 Canada$72.4B
77UniSuper🇦🇺 Australia$72.1B
78Northrop Grumman🇺🇸 U.S.$72.0B
79Pennsylvania School Employees🇺🇸 U.S.$70.4B
80Lloyds Banking Group🇬🇧 UK$69.7B
81Ilmarinen🇫🇮 Finland$69.1B
82Colorado Employees🇺🇸 U.S.$68.6B
83Maryland State Retirement🇺🇸 U.S.$68.5B
84AMF Pension🇸🇪 Sweden$67.3B
85Varma🇫🇮 Finland$67.1B
86Wells Fargo🇺🇸 U.S.$66.0B
87Sunsuper🇦🇺 Australia$66.0B
88Verizon🇺🇸 U.S.$64.1B
89Illinois Teachers🇺🇸 U.S.$64.0B
90J.P. Morgan Chase🇺🇸 U.S.$62.8B
91Electricity Supply Pension🇬🇧 UK$62.5B
92FedEx🇺🇸 U.S.$60.7B
93Nevada Public Employees🇺🇸 U.S.$58.8B
94B.C. Municipal🇨🇦 Canada$58.7B
95AP Fonden 4🇸🇪 Sweden$57.7B
96Missouri Schools & Education🇺🇸 U.S.$57.0B
97AP Fonden 3🇸🇪 Sweden$55.9B
98Social Insurance Funds🇻🇳 Vietnam$55.7B
99Organization for Workers🇯🇵 Japan$55.6B
100Illinois Municipal🇺🇸 U.S.$54.9B

U.S. fund data are as of Sep. 30, 2021, and non-U.S. fund data are as of Dec. 31, 2021. There are some exceptions as noted in the graphic footnotes.

Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF) is the largest in the ranking for the 21st year in a row. For a time, the fund was the largest holder of domestic stocks in Japan, though the Bank of Japan has since taken that title. Given its enormous size, investors closely follow the GPIF’s actions. For instance, the fund made headlines for deciding to start investing in startups, because the move could entice other pensions to make similar investments.

America is home to 47 funds on the list, including the largest public sector fund: the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), overseen by the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board. Because of its large financial influence, both political parties have been accused of using it as a political tool. Democrats have pushed to divest assets in fossil fuel companies, while Republicans have proposed blocking investment in Chinese-owned companies.

Russia’s National Wealth Fund comes in at number 19 on the list. The fund is designed to support the public pension system and help balance the budget as needed. With Russia’s economy facing difficulties amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the government has also used it as a rainy day fund. For instance, Russia has set aside $23 billion from the fund to replace foreign aircraft with domestic models, because Western sanctions have made it difficult to source replacement parts for foreign planes.

The Future of Pension Funds

The biggest pension funds can have a large influence in the market because of their size. Of course, they are also responsible for providing retirement income to millions of people. Pension funds face a variety of challenges in order to reach their goals:

  • Geopolitical conflict creates volatility and uncertainty
  • High inflation and low interest rates (relative to long-term averages) limit return potential
  • Aging populations mean more withdrawals and less fund contributions

Some pension funds are turning to alternative assets, such as private equity, in pursuit of more diversification and higher returns. Of course, these investments can also carry more risk.

Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, number 18 on the list, invested $95 million in the now-bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange FTX. The plan made the investment through its venture growth platform, to “gain small-scale exposure to an emerging area in the financial technology sector.”

In this case, the investment’s failure is expected to have a minimal impact given it only made up 0.05% of the plan’s net assets. However, it does highlight the challenges pension funds face to generate sufficient returns in a variety of macroeconomic environments.

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