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The Year in Review: 2020 in 20 Visualizations

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Can you remember a year more life-changing than 2020?

Over a million lives were lost in the pandemic, oil prices turned negative, and protests swept the streets. At the same time, 10 years of technology advancements seemed to happen in mere months—and now vaccinations are rolling out at a record speed.

Below, we round up some of the year’s biggest news events with charts and visualizations.


The Year in Review: 2020 in 20 Visualizations

Graphic #1   ⟩⟩   January 2020

Australian Bushfires

For some in the Southern Hemisphere who ushered in the new year first, it started on fire.

Reuters assessed the scale of the damage caused by bushfires across Australia. In fact, total burned areas reached 18.6 million hectares (186,000km²) by March, bigger than the total land mass of entire countries like Cuba.

Here’s the damage done in the state of New South Wales alone, compared to previous years:

australia nsw bushfire season 2019-2020

While bushfires are common in Australia, this year, dry conditions fueled the flames. The fires raged for nearly 80 days, displacing or killing nearly 3 billion animals—a devastating biodiversity loss for the country.

Graphic #2   ⟩⟩   January 2020

Rising Iran–U.S. Tensions

In early January, a U.S. air strike incinerated the car of General Qassim Suleimani, a security mastermind and one of Iran’s most powerful military strategists. U.S. officials claimed that Iran was planning an “imminent” attack.

In retaliation, Iran fired two rockets at U.S. military bases located in Iraq. No one was killed. As tensions escalated, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to try and restrict President Trump’s use of military power against Iran without approval.

iran missile flight PS752

Later, in mid-January, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard admitted that it mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet, responsible for the death of 176 people.

Graphic #3   ⟩⟩   March 2020

The Spread of the “Novel Coronavirus”

You’ve heard of Patient Zero, but what about Patient 31?

Before February, cases of the still unnamed virus were largely contained within China, with the rest of the world cautiously observing the country’s containment efforts. Slowly, but surely, the virus began to spread beyond China’s borders.

South Korea’s 31st confirmed COVID-19 case—which was behind the rapid spread of the virus to potentially up to 1,160 contacts in the country—served as a warning to the rest of the world of how fast the virus could spread.

patient 31 south korea covid-19 superspreader
» See the full graphic by Reuters

Reuters’ unique graphic explainer uncovers how just one typical day of multiple “normal” interactions had significant super-spreader effects.

Graphic #4   ⟩⟩   March 2020

The Coronavirus Crash

The S&P 500 erased over a third of its value in under a month—the fastest 30% decline ever recorded on the benchmark index.

As a result, the global tourism industry suffered dramatic losses, with countless cruise ships docked and passenger flights traveling at half-capacity.

beach stocks covid-19

This graphic shows the BEACH stocks—booking, entertainment & live events, airlines, cruises & casinos, hotels & resorts—that were most impacted by worldwide travel bans.

While some of these stocks have since recovered, the ongoing impact of COVID-19 is still most widely being felt among companies in these types of industries.

Graphic #5 & 6   ⟩⟩   March 2020

Lockdown Life Begins

From toilet paper hoarding to limits on gatherings, the pandemic’s immediate effects on our surrounding environment became clear as early as March. As daily life came to a standstill, commuter activity in major cities plummeted throughout the month.

covid-19 city shutdown mobility

One unintended positive consequence of these shutdowns? Air pollution, such as nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) emissions also steeply dropped alongside these restrictions on movement.

Possibly the most well-known diagram of the pandemic is the one that introduced the world to the phrase “flatten the curve”, showing why it was important to prevent and delay the spread of the virus so that large portions of the population aren’t sick at the same time.

flattening the covid19 curve

Graphic #7   ⟩⟩   April 2020

Historic U.S. Job Losses

After the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11, unemployment figures soon hit historic proportions.

Within a month, 22 million in the U.S. had filed jobless claims.

historic covid-19 job losses

To put this in perspective, U.S. unemployment levels in 2020 were roughly 10 times higher than previous peak unemployment levels in absolute terms. Or, to look at it another way, this is equivalent to the entire population of Chile or Taiwan.

Graphic #8   ⟩⟩   April 2020

Stimulus Announced in the U.S.

On March 27, the $2 trillion CARES Act came into law after facing minimal resistance from the House and Senate. We broke down the historic relief package in the Sankey diagram below.

anatomy of covid-19 stimulus package cares act

The relief package included $1,200 direct deposits to individuals, over $350 billion in relief for small businesses, and an excess of $100 billion for the U.S. health system.

Graphic #9   ⟩⟩   April 2020

Oil Prices Go Negative

In another historic event, oil prices went negative for the first time in history. Futures contracts for WTI oil fell to a stunning -$37.63 on April 20th, with producers actually paying traders to take oil off their hands.

negative oil explainer charts

Oil has since recovered from this shock, cruising back to more typical price levels.

Graphic #10   ⟩⟩   May 2020

Black Lives Matter Protests

“I can’t breathe.” These few words sparked the ongoing flames of a significant movement this summer: Black Lives Matter (BLM).

After the killing of George Floyd on May 25, by police, the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) recorded over 7,750 BLM-linked demonstrations over a three month span.

george floyd blm protests and riots

The nationwide pattern of civil unrest is well-documented, but there’s been no time like the present to demand change. Though images of burning cars and police clashes dominated the headlines, in the end, 93% of the protests were peaceful.

There’s also been a ripple effect, with thousands of similar rallies reported in countries around the world.

Graphic #11 & 12  ⟩⟩   May 2020

The World Works from Home

The dramatic shift to staying at home has resulted in a much higher reliance on technology for many people. Nowhere were these trends exemplified more than the rise of video conferencing software Zoom—the platform was used for work, education, and socializing alike.

As monthly users swelled, those who typically take to the skies also declined in a steep fashion. In this graphic from May, we noted that Zoom’s market capitalization had skyrocketed to eclipse the top seven airlines by revenue, combined.

zoom market cap bigger than airlines

As remote work became the new normal for significant shares of the workforce, unique benefits of this adjusted lifestyle arose, but it didn’t come without its challenges.

remote working benefits and struggles

Perhaps the most significant lasting change from the COVID-19 pandemic might be the adoption of flexible work, even by firms that resisted the trend in the past.

If many employees continue to work remotely, even part of the time, then that will have a big impact on everything from the commercial office market to the bottom line of SaaS companies that help facilitate remote collaboration among teams.

Graphic #13   ⟩⟩   July 2020

Tesla becomes World’s Most Valuable Automaker

2020 was a hallmark year for Tesla. In June, it became the most valuable automaker in the world—surpassing the likes of Toyota, Volkswagen, and Honda.

Tesla’s market valuation climbed over 375% since June 2019. While these soaring figures are one factor behind its rise, others include record Model 3 sales, which prompted market euphoria.

Tesla most valuable automaker

But Tesla’s story is far from over.

The company is now worth more than the largest nine automakers combined, and is set to enter the S&P 500 officially on December 21, 2020. Tesla will be the most valuable company to ever enter the index, ranking as the eighth-largest overall.

Graphic #14   ⟩⟩   July 2020

Big Tech’s Dominance

In many ways, COVID-19 only accentuated differences in market share, earnings, and wealth.

For one, Big Tech’s market cap share of the S&P 500 soared. In the seven years preceding July, the market cap of the six stocks—Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Alphabet, and Microsoft—grew over 500%. By contrast, the S&P 500 rose just 110%.

faangm vs sp500

At the same time, Big Tech’s concentration reached record levels, with the five largest companies accounting for over 20% of the index’s total value.

Graphic #15   ⟩⟩   August 2020

Beirut Explosion

While the world grappled with numerous biological and natural disasters, human-error led to a deadly explosion that rocked Beirut’s port. The blast was broadcast around the world in real time as people filmed the fire on their devices.

Using satellite data, NASA and NYT mapped the extent of the damage, which claimed 135 lives and affected 305,000 more.

beirut explosion damage
» See the full interactive explainer by NYT

This explosion was the biggest accident of its kind in modern history, triggered by the exposure of combustible ammonium nitrate—a key ingredient in fertilizers—to an open flame due to poor storage. Beyond the human toll, the financial cost of this explosion is estimated at above $15 billion.

ammonium nitrate explosions

Graphic #16   ⟩⟩   August 2020

Shortest Bear Market in History Ends

In a stunning reversal, the bear market of 2020 ended on August 18 when the S&P 500 exceeded previous February highs. As trillions of dollars in stimulus response got injected into global economies, markets recovered in record time.

sp500 Market Crashes

Just two weeks before the shortest bear market in history ended, we published a graphic comparing previous stock crashes—from 1987’s Black Monday to the Nixon Shock of 1973—exposing the duration and intensity of market downturns since 1929.

Graphic #17   ⟩⟩   August 2020

U.S. Wildfire Season

Reddish-orange skies might seem otherworldly, but this fall, they were a common sight across the West Coast of North America, where air quality reached the “hazardous” category for long stretches of time.

U.S. west coast air quality

2020 was the most active year on record for wildfires yet, with California and Oregon being particularly hard-hit. While some wildfires are caused by natural occurrences like lightning strikes, an overwhelming majority (85-90%) happen because of human causes such as discarded cigarettes and campfire debris.

This is an unprecedented event. We now have the largest wildfire in [California’s] history, as well as the third largest and the fourth largest and five of the Top 10.

– Noah Diffenbaugh, professor and senior fellow at Stanford University

Graphic #18   ⟩⟩   November 2020

The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election

In 2020, U.S. election spending hit over $13 billion, more than twice the amount spent on the entire 2016 election.

Of this total, congressional spending topped $7 billion, with Democrats spending 64% more than Republican candidates for the House and Senate.

2020 election spending

President Biden was the first candidate ever to raise $1 billion, while Trump raised $596 million.

Graphic #19   ⟩⟩   December 2020

COVID-19’s Third Wave

Like history tells us, pandemics come in waves. The third wave of COVID-19 escalated in November, when cases began to surge.

On November 8, the seven-day average of new daily cases hit 100,000 in America. By the end of November, global cases soared to 60 million. Since then, cases have trended upward, leading local governments worldwide to enforce social distancing requirements for the winter holiday season.

The below graphic from Reddit helps show the latest surge in cases in the U.S.:

third-wave-gif

Graphic #20   ⟩⟩   December 2020

Global Vaccination Effort Kicks Off

In more recent news, Pfizer made waves when it announced it was rolling out a 95% effective COVID-19 vaccine. Then followed Moderna, at 94.5% in mid-November. As the global vaccination race intensifies, Bloomberg tracks the progress of nine vaccines and 80 publicly disclosed distribution deals representing 7.95 billion vaccination doses.

However, even with viable vaccines, challenges still exist. All around the world, perceptions of vaccine safety have dropped significantly, which may complicate an economic recovery.

vaccine perceptions global

On to the Next One

After the wild ride that was 2020, many people are wondering what 2021 will have in store.

In the first half of the year, vaccine distribution will surely take center stage. As well, economic recovery will be in focus as physical businesses resume more typical activity and regions slowly open up travel and tourism again.

Much like the financial crisis of 2008 was an inflection point for the economy, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the course of human history. Chaos can breed opportunity, and even though unemployment spiked to record highs in the U.S., new business applications did as well.

Will things return to “normal”? As the many twists and turns of the past year have demonstrated, our complex, interconnected world is far from static. The next black swan is always just around the corner.

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Interest Rate Hikes vs. Inflation Rate, by Country

Inflation rates are reaching multi-decade highs in some countries. How aggressive have central banks been with interest rate hikes?

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Interest Rate Hikes vs. Inflation Rate, by Country

Imagine today’s high inflation like a car speeding down a hill. In order to slow it down, you need to hit the brakes. In this case, the “brakes” are interest rate hikes intended to slow spending. However, some central banks are hitting the brakes faster than others.

This graphic uses data from central banks and government websites to show how policy interest rates and inflation rates have changed since the start of the year. It was inspired by a chart created by Macrobond.

How Do Interest Rate Hikes Combat Inflation?

To understand how interest rates influence inflation, we need to understand how inflation works. Inflation is the result of too much money chasing too few goods. Over the last several months, this has occurred amid a surge in demand and supply chain disruptions worsened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In an effort to combat inflation, central banks will raise their policy rate. This is the rate they charge commercial banks for loans or pay commercial banks for deposits. Commercial banks pass on a portion of these higher rates to their customers, which reduces the purchasing power of businesses and consumers. For example, it becomes more expensive to borrow money for a house or car.

Ultimately, interest rate hikes act to slow spending and encourage saving. This motivates companies to increase prices at a slower rate, or lower prices, to stimulate demand.

Rising Interest Rates and Inflation

With inflation rates hitting multi-decade highs in some countries, many central banks have announced interest rate hikes. Below, we show how the inflation rate and policy interest rate have changed for select countries and regions since January 2022. The jurisdictions are ordered from highest to lowest current inflation rate.

JurisdictionJan 2022 InflationMay 2022 InflationJan 2022 Policy RateJun 2022 Policy Rate
UK5.50%9.10%0.25%1.25%
U.S.7.50%8.60%0.00%-0.25%1.50%-1.75%
Euro Area5.10%8.10%0.00%0.00%
Canada5.10%7.70%0.25%1.50%
Sweden3.90%7.20%0.00%0.25%
New Zealand5.90%6.90%0.75%2.00%
Norway3.20%5.70%0.50%1.25%
Australia3.50%5.10%0.10%0.85%
Switzerland1.60%2.90%-0.75%-0.25%
Japan0.50%2.50%-0.10%-0.10%

The Euro area has 3 policy rates; the data above represents the main refinancing operations rate. Inflation data is as of May 2022 except for New Zealand and Australia, where the latest quarterly data is as of March 2022.

The U.S. Federal Reserve has been the most aggressive with its interest rate hikes. It has raised its policy rate by 1.5% since January, with half of that increase occurring at the June 2022 meeting. Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said the committee would like to “do a little more front-end loading” to bring policy rates to normal levels. The action comes as the U.S. faces its highest inflation rate in 40 years.

On the other hand, the European Union is experiencing inflation of 8.1% but has not yet raised its policy rate. The European Central Bank has, however, provided clear forward guidance. It intends to raise rates by 0.25% in July, by a possibly larger increment in September, and with gradual but sustained increases thereafter. Clear forward guidance is intended to help people make spending and investment decisions, and avoid surprises that could disrupt markets.

Pacing Interest Rate Hikes

Raising interest rates is a fine balancing act. If central banks raise rates too quickly, it’s like slamming the brakes on that car speeding downhill: the economy could come to a standstill. This occurred in the U.S. in the 1980’s when the Federal Reserve, led by Chair Paul Volcker, raised the policy rate to 20%. The economy went into a recession, though the aggressive monetary policy did eventually tame double digit inflation.

However, if rates are raised too slowly, inflation could gather enough momentum that it becomes difficult to stop. The longer high price increases linger, the more future inflation expectations build. This can result in people buying more in anticipation of prices rising further, perpetuating high demand.

“There’s always a risk of going too far or not going far enough, and it’s going to be a very difficult judgment to make.” — Jerome Powell, U.S. Federal Reserve Chair

It’s worth noting that while central banks can influence demand through policy rates, this is only one side of the equation. Inflation is also being caused by supply chain issues, a problem that is more or less outside of the control of central banks.

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3 Insights From the FED’s Latest Economic Snapshot

Stay up to date on the U.S. economy with this infographic summarizing the most recent Federal Reserve data released.

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us economic snapshot

3 Insights From the Latest U.S. Economic Data

Each month, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York publishes monthly economic snapshots.

To make this report accessible to a wider audience, we’ve identified the three most important takeaways from the report and compiled them into one infographic.

1. Growth figures in Q2 will make or break a recession

Generally speaking, a recession begins when an economy exhibits two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth. Because U.S. GDP shrank by -1.5% in Q1 2022 (January to March), a lot rests on the Q2 figure (April to June) which should be released on July 28th.

Referencing strong business activity and continued growth in consumer spending, economists predict that U.S. GDP will grow by +2.1% in Q2. This would mark a decisive reversal from Q1, and put an end to recessionary fears for the time being.

Unfortunately, inflation is the top financial concern for Americans, and this is dampening consumer confidence. Shown below, the consumer confidence index reflects the public’s short-term outlook for income, business, and labor conditions.

consumer price index 2005 to 2022

Falling consumer confidence suggests that more people will delay big purchases such as cars, major appliances, and vacations.

2. The COVID-era housing boom could be over

Housing markets have been riding high since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, but this run is likely coming to an end. Here’s a summary of what’s happened since 2020:

  • Lockdowns in early 2020 created lots of pent-up demand for homes
  • Greater household savings and record-low mortgage rates pushed demand even further
  • Supply chain disruptions greatly increased the cost of materials like lumber
  • Construction of new homes couldn’t keep up, and housing supply fell to historic lows

Today, home prices are at record highs and the cost of borrowing is rapidly rising. For evidence, look no further than the 30-year fixed mortgage rate, which has doubled to more than 6% since the beginning of 2022.

Given these developments, the drop in the number of home sales could be a sign that many Americans are being priced out of the market.

3. Don’t expect groceries to become any cheaper

Inflation has been a hot topic this year, especially with gas prices reaching $5 a gallon. But there’s one category of goods that’s perhaps even more alarming: food.

The following table includes food inflation over the past three years, as the percent change over the past 12 months.

DateCPI Food Component (%)
2018-02-011.4%
2019-05-012.0%
2019-06-011.9%
2019-07-011.8%
2019-08-011.7%
2019-09-011.8%
2019-10-012.1%
2019-11-012.0%
2019-12-011.8%
2020-01-011.8%
2020-02-011.8%
2020-03-011.9%
2020-04-013.5%
2020-05-014.0%
2020-06-014.5%
2020-07-014.1%
2020-08-014.1%
2020-09-014.0%
2020-10-013.9%
2020-11-013.7%
2020-12-013.9%
2021-01-013.8%
2021-02-013.6%
2021-03-013.5%
2021-04-012.4%
2021-05-012.1%
2021-06-012.4%
2021-07-013.4%
2021-08-013.7%
2021-09-014.6%
2021-10-015.3%
2021-11-016.1%
2021-12-016.3%
2022-01-017.0%
2022-02-017.9%
2022-03-018.8%
2022-04-019.4%
2022-05-0110.1%

From this data, we can see that food inflation really picked up speed in April 2020, jumping to +3.5% from +1.9% in the previous month. This was due to supply chain disruptions and a sudden rebound in global demand.

Fast forward to today, and food inflation is running rampant at 10.1%. A contributing factor is the impending fertilizer shortage, which stems from the Ukraine war. As it turns out, Russia is not only a massive exporter of oil, but wheat and fertilizer as well.

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