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Visualizing the Size of the U.S. National Debt

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Visualizing the Size of the U.S. National Debt

Visualizing the Size of the U.S. National Debt

The Money Project is an ongoing collaboration between Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals that seeks to use intuitive visualizations to explore the origins, nature, and use of money.

When numbers get into the billions or trillions, they start to lose context.

The U.S. national debt is one of those numbers. It currently sits at $19.5 trillion, which is actually such a large number that it is truly difficult for the average person to comprehend.

How big is the U.S. National Debt?

The best way to understand these large numbers? We believe it is to represent them visually, by plotting the data with comparable numbers that are easier to grasp.

Today’s data visualization plots the U.S. National Debt against everything from the assets managed by the world’s largest money managers, to the annual value of gold production.

1. The U.S. national debt is larger than the 500 largest public companies in America.
The S&P 500 is a stock market index that tracks the value of the 500 largest U.S. companies by market capitalization. It includes giant companies like Apple, Exxon Mobil, Microsoft, Alphabet, Facebook, Johnson & Johnson, and many others. In summer of 2016, the value of all of these 500 companies together added to $19.1 trillion – just short of the debt total.

2. The U.S. national debt is larger than all assets managed by the world’s top seven money managers.
The world’s largest money managers – companies like Blackrock, Vanguard, or Fidelity – manage trillions of investor assets in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs, and more. However, if we take the top seven of these companies and add all of their assets under management (AUM) together, it adds up to only $18.9 trillion.

3. The U.S. national debt is 25x larger than all global oil exports in 2015.
Yes, countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Russia make a killing off of selling their oil around the world. However, the numbers behind these exports are paltry in comparison to the debt. For example, you’d need the Saudis to donate the next 146 years of revenue from their oil exports to fully pay down the debt.

4. The U.S. national debt is 155x larger than all gold mined globally in a year.
Gold has symbolized money and wealth for a long time – but even the world’s annual production of roughly 3,000 tonnes (96 million oz) of the yellow metal barely puts a dent in the debt total. At market prices today, you’d need to somehow mine 155 years worth of gold at today’s rate to equal the debt.

5. In fact, the national debt is larger than all of the world’s physical currency, gold, silver, and bitcoin combined.
That’s right, if you rounded up every single dollar, euro, yen, pound, yuan, and any other global physical currency note or coin in existence, it only amounts to a measly $5 trillion. Adding the world’s physical gold ($7.7 trillion), silver ($20 billion), and cryptocurrencies ($11 billion) on top of that, you get to a total of $12.73 trillion. That’s equal to about 65% of the U.S. national debt.

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Chart of the Week

How the Modern Consumer is Different

We all have a stereotypical image of the average consumer – but is it an accurate one? Meet the modern consumer, and what it means for business.

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How the Modern Consumer is Different

How the Modern Consumer is Different

There is a prevailing wisdom that says the stereotypical American consumer can be defined by certain characteristics.

Based on what popular culture tells us, as well as years of experiences and data, we all have an idea of what the average consumer might look for in a house, car, restaurant, or shopping center.

But as circumstances change, so do consumer tastes – and according to a recent report by Deloitte, the modern consumer is becoming increasingly distinct from those of years past. For us to truly understand how these changes will affect the marketplace and our investments, we need to rethink and update our image of the modern consumer.

A Changing Consumer Base

In their analysis, Deloitte leans heavily on big picture demographic and economic factors to help in summarizing the three major ways in which consumers are changing.

Here are three ways the new consumer is different than in years past:

1. Increasingly Diverse
In terms of ethnicity, the Baby Boomers are 75% white, while the Millennial generation is 56% white. This diversity also transfers to other areas as well, such as sexual and gender identities.

Not surprisingly, future generations are expected to be even more heterogeneous – Gen Z, for example, identifies as being 49% non-white.

2. Under Greater Financial Pressure
Today’s consumers are more educated than ever before, but it’s come at a stiff price. In fact, the cost of education has increased by 65% between 2007 and 2017, and this has translated to a record-setting $1.5 trillion in student loans on the books.

Other costs have mounted as well, leaving the bottom 80% of consumers with effectively no increase in discretionary income over the last decade. To make matters worse, if you single out just the bottom 40% of earners, they actually have less discretionary income to spend than they did back in 2007.

3. Delaying Key Life Milestones
Getting married, having children, and buying a house all have one major thing in common: they can be expensive.

The average person under 35 years old has a 34% lower net worth than they would have had in the 1990s, making it harder to tackle typical adult milestones. In fact, the average couple today is marrying eight years later than they did in 1965, while the U.S. birthrate is at its lowest point in three decades. Meanwhile, homeownership for those aged 24-32 has dropped by 9% since 2005.

A New Landscape for Business?

The modern consumer base is more diverse, but also must deal with increased financial pressures and a delayed start in achieving traditional milestones of adulthood. These demographic and economic factors ultimately have a ripple effect down to businesses and investors.

How do these big picture changes impact your business or investments?

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Central Banks

Visualizing the Snowball of Government Debt

See the latest levels of government debt, based on the IMF’s most recent data. Where does your country sit in the snowball?

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Visualizing the Snowball of Government Debt

Over the last five years, markets have pushed concerns about debt under the rug.

While economic growth and record-low interest rates have made it easy to service existing government debt, it’s also created a situation where government debt has grown in to over $63 trillion in absolute terms.

The global economic tide can change fast, and in the event of a recession or rapidly rising interest rates, debt levels could come back into the spotlight very quickly.

The Debt Snowball

Today’s visualization comes to us from HowMuch.net and it rolls the world’s countries into a “snowball” of government debt, colored and arranged by debt-to-GDP ratios. The data itself comes from the IMF’s most recent October 2018 update.

The structure of the visualization is apt, because debt can accumulate in an unsustainable way if governments are not proactive. This situation can create a vicious cycle, where mounting debt can start hampering growth, making the debt ultimately harder to pay off.

Here are the countries with the most debt on the books:

RankCountryDebt-to-GDP Ratio (2017)
#1Japan237.6%
#2Greece181.8%
#3Lebanon146.8%
#4Italy131.8%
#5Portugal125.7%
#6Sudan121.6%
#7Singapore111.1%
#8United States105.2%
#9Belgium103.4%
#10Egypt103.0%

Note: Small economies (GDP under $10 billion) are excluded in this table, such as Cabo Verde and Barbados

Japan and Greece are the most indebted countries in the world, with debt-to-GDP ratios of 237.6% and 181.8% respectively. Meanwhile, the United States sits in the #8 spot with a 105.2% ratio, and recent Treasury estimates putting the national debt at $22 trillion.

Light Snow

On the opposite spectrum, here are the 10 jurisdictions that have incurred less debt relative to the size of their economies:

RankCountryDebt-to-GDP Ratio (2017)
#1Macao (SAR)0.0%
#2Hong Kong (SAR)0.1%
#3Brunei2.8%
#4Afghanistan7.0%
#5Estonia9.0%
#6Botswana14.0%
#7Russia15.5%
#8Saudi Arabia17.2%
#9DRC18.1%
#10Paraguay19.5%

Note: Small economies (GDP under $10 billion) are excluded in this table, such as Timor-Leste and Solomon Islands

Macao and Hong Kong – both special administrative regions (SARs) in China – have virtually zero debt on the books, while the official country with the lowest debt is Brunei (2.8%).

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