There are a lot of great things to be said about the United States economy right now. As US markets celebrate their longest ever growth streak, economically, a lot of Americans are satisfied with their financial well-being. Unemployment fell to a 50-year low, falling from 3.9 to 3.7 percent in September, as the US economy added another 134,000 jobs and companies have been steadily announcing payroll increases. In the third quarter, wages grew 3.4 percent, the fastest pace in over a decade. Amazon shocked the country by announcing its new $15 minimum wage for US workers, a policy that will go into effect next month, and is yet another sign of the best labor market in over a decade.
In the midst of this positive growth, the US Dollar continues to perform well as we enter the fourth quarter. US treasury yields are their highest since 2011, the dollar hit an 11-month high against the yen, and even the pound slipped to below $1.30 as the Dollar continues to sneak up. This means many Americans will enter the holiday season not only more eager to spend, but perhaps more eager to travel, as the Dollar’s value continues to rise globally. While spelling great news for US citizens, what does this mean for others around the world? Specifically, emerging markets across the globe are very aware of the recent trend of the Dollar, and in many cases, are facing potentially severe implications if the rapid growth continues to be a trend.
One key indicator of economic and monetary prosperity is the Federal Reserve benchmark interest rate. The Fed tends to raise rates during a strong economy to contain excesses and make sure the economy continues to grow stably, and tends to lower rates in times of economic struggle, in an effort to boost spending and borrowing. Currently sitting at a range between 2% and 2.25%, the Fed raised the rate for the third time in late September, and plans to raise it again sometime in December, and the plans don’t stop there. In June, when the Fed laid out its long-term objectives, it tentatively planned three more interest rate increases for 2019, and one more for 2020. The rates can also help ensure inflation rates are steady. The current inflation rate of 1.9% is very close to the Fed’s target of 2%. This is a very significant outline, as it tells us that the Fed predicts the US’s growth to continue through 2020.
While signaling stability for the US Dollar, the Fed’s interest rate increases can negatively affect foreign markets, especially those who have borrowed heavily in US Dollars. As it stands, the US is still, by far, the dominant global reserve currency, accounting for 63% of global reserves. Many countries around the world issue Dollar-denominated debt, and debt levels become exaggerated with the rise of the Dollar. While interest rate increases work in strong economies such as the US’s, the same increases constrain countries where economies are not doing as well. It hurts policy options in regions with tight financial conditions and high trade tensions. While the US market enjoys a growth streak, the markets of emerging countries have on average been declining throughout 2018.
Emerging markets, which often rely heavily on foreign investment, will be hurting the most. In emerging Asian markets, the Indonesian rupiah hit a 20 year low in 2018, and the Indian Rupee hit an all-time low vs the Dollar, hitting 73.77. In South America, the Argentine Peso, which was placed at 18 vs the US Dollar in 2017 and was relatively stable, rose to over 40 in 2018. The Brazilian Real hit 4.15 this year, while being in the low 3s during 2017. In the Middle East, the Turkish Lira, which has been in the 3s for the last half decade, has reached above 6, and in Africa, the South African Rand has increased to over 15 despite being as low as just 11 last year. While these are some of the more extreme examples worldwide, and while there are plenty of other internal issues at play, it still marks a global trend of struggle against the US Dollar. The reality is, foreign investors are crucial to the success of emerging economies, and investors become more and more reluctant to invest abroad in times of such volatility.
This brings up an intriguing ethical debate, that is, should we, as Americans, really care about the economic struggles abroad? After all, with turbulence abroad, investors have turned to the relative stability and strength of the US markets, increasing investment in 2018. With our government’s “America First” policy, jobs have finally been increasing again over the past few years. Despite this, I worry about the tough implications that emerging economies are facing right now. Worldwide market collaboration and investment drives innovation and success and can move different people and cultures together forward Of course, the reality is a lot more complicated, but I still see success, especially in emerging markets, as a positive thing, and it is important to keep in mind that US markets affect these markets more than we think.
The summer of 2018 has been populated by speculation on the future of the tech industry and tempestuous debate on the direction of our economy. We have discussed the scandals of the likes of Facebook and Twitter but, this time, we are looking on the bright side of the tech industry with the frontrunners of innovation, Amazon and Apple. The recent highlight? Apple reached the inconceivable $1 Trillion valuation crux for a company… Amazon quickly followed suit.
The only way to aptly start this article is to awe over what ‘Trillion’ means and looks like. To begin, find the nearest ruler or roughly picture one foot in your head. Now, you need to visualize the distance between the earth and the moon. That distance is roughly 1.3 Billion feet long and in order to reach one trillion, take 770 trips to the moon or take a trip to Mars. Let that sink in. Comparing the companies to countries, per 2017 GDP data, both Apple and Amazon would find themselves beating all but 16 countries.
A year ago, Apple’s total Market Capitalization (total firm market value) sat at $830 Billion while Amazon’s fell short at $460 Billion. With Apple’s colossal popularity, we expected the firm to hit the milestone sooner or later. On the other hand, Amazon burgeoned from a new way to order textbooks to capturing 49% of the e-commerce market and now, potentially, a soon-to-be healthcare provider, all within the past decade.
Now that 2 of the 5 FAANG giants (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Alphabet/‘Google’) have soared to a trillion dollar valuation, and with Alphabet flirting with $900 Billion after a strong Q2 earnings report was released, which company will join the podium? The tech industry has seen a jet-fueled growth due to strong quarterly reports, technological and e-commerce needs, and the continued expansion of the US economy. While Wall Street analysts expect to see the largest growth from a $530 Billion valued Berkshire Hathaway, the race boils down to two true contenders: Microsoft and Alphabet, yet two more tech companies.
In the case of Alphabet, despite a $5 Billion fine in Q2 from the European Union, the company still managed to have a strong quarterly performance. However, ever since the earnings report brought Alphabet’s peak, the firm has been in decline; Google’s absence at the congressional hearing did not help. With ensuing claims of shadow banning via Twitter, Facebook, and Google, the US Senate looks to further regulate the industry. Unlike Alphabet, Microsoft did not have to make an appearance at the September 5th congressional hearing. Much like Alphabet, they and many other tech stocks took a hit, with Microsoft falling 3%. The industry took a massive drop but this could just be the start of a drawn out regulatory battle.
According to Goldman Sachs Chief US Equity Strategist, David Kostin, we may see pressing regulation and even potential reclassification. Kostin speculates that this could separate the more “social” tech firms, such as Facebook and Google, to be redefined with a new industry description. Could they fall into a subdivision of tech or something new? Furthermore, Kostin mentions that the remaining ‘tech’ firms would be deemed “legacy” tech. By splitting the mammoth tech industry into two categories, investors will have a stabler, hopefully regulation-averse, positions that separate the hazy futures of the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and Google while maintaining the sincere domination of true tech firms. Since Alphabet is a conglomerate that has branched into social media with Google Plus, they have a large representation of information tech thanks to the Google Pixel and Chromebooks, technological research, and so much more. Seriously, click here to learn more. Goldman Sachs’s Kostin is trying to categorize a giant with arms in multiple industries; Facebook and Microsoft have far simpler distinctions. This is where I draw my conclusion and shift my focus back to the question at hand, who’s the next trillion dollar baby?
Separating the non-information technology firms from the social media-esque firms will allow investors to capture the growth of the tech industry without having to deal with as much of its regulation and spotlight. On September 5th, the only companies that were scheduled to appear at the congressional hearing were Facebook, Google, and Twitter, and the largest of the three did not even show. Despite the hysteria of regulation focusing on Kostin’s “Communications Services” firms, Microsoft and other major tech “legacies” took huge hits. Goldman Sachs’s reasoning? The massive presence of contemporary tech positions in ETFs (exchange-traded funds). The split would tighten the current industry and shift the focus of investors to their respective sides. It would also reduce the overall volume of holdings and trades of tech companies that are included in the same indexes, but only because they are in the tech industry with the likes of Facebook. The chief US equity strategist states that the legacy firms will grow at a slower pace than the new communications services sector, despite including the burgeoning Amazon and Apple.
With that being said, we’ve come to our answer. And the winner is… it depends. If Alphabet continues to face ensuing regulation, do not expect the company to reach $1 Trillion next. Unless the firm quickly survives the tumultuous sentiment of the public spotlight, expect Microsoft to take the crown.
Although we have crowned a winner- well two tentative winners- what if neither company hits the landmark soon? With all of the discussion surrounding continuously increasing market caps within the current tech industry, analysts often poke at the idea of potential overvaluation; and your local Pitt Business Review Analyst will quickly do the same. So, what is the major difference between the dotcom bubble and our hypothetical tech bubble? Well for starters, some of our major tech firms have lived through the bubble already, but the prime reason is that they were backed by tangible goods and technological advancements. FAANG is comprised of five leading tech corporations frontrunning advancements and differentiation in the tech industry, however, two of the firms generate their profits through intangible services: Netflix leading as the largest video streaming service (double that of YouTube) and Facebook managing 2.5 Billion active individuals (with even more accounts) on its four media platforms. The companies’ values come from their massive user bases.
Nowadays, you cannot simply slap on a .com and see an immediate rise in stock price. If you’re looking for potential bubble speculation, I am sure you have read up on some of the ICO (independent coin offerings) names thanks to the crypto craze. Back in late 2017 and early 2018, with names including coin or blockchain, your stock could rise 200%; just ask the new and improved Long Island Iced Tea, which changed its name to Long Blockchain Corp. Or, maybe you have heard of DogeCoin, the coin named after an internet meme? While I will not touch upon cryptocurrency any further, focusing on the more qualitative side, name changing serves as a strong example of a potential bubble. Furthermore, many of our contemporary tech giants felt the wrath of the dotcom bubble and survived. Amazon in particular, now valued in the $1900 per share range, eclipsed at $107 and dropped to less than $7 per share during the crash. Companies like Amazon have already passed the hurdle by diversifying their companies internally to be more than just part of a new fad or craze. To add another point to the argument, strong consumer sentiment and economic expansion have driven every major index to new highs in 2018. With economic expansion comes an increase in equity and an increase in equity drives investor sentiment; just ask the roaring 20’s. As the FED moves closer to raising interest rates 4 times this year, thanks to continued growth, it is tough to ignore the paralleled growth of the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average specifically. Keep in mind that this is a quick qualitative analysis on a potential bubble and there is far more digging that can be done; I encourage you all to dig further yourselves. Lastly, in 1999, the Capital Markets were on a completely new level, with 468 firms seeing an initial public offering (IPO) in the US markets, while in 2017, we saw 174 IPOs. The US markets have learned their lesson on the maturity of firms and their readiness to see the public markets. The last questions remain, what does the future hold for the tech industry? Will we see a slip in tech market caps?
Within the tech sector, homing in on the “Communications Services” group, the major performers that come to mind will be the obvious Alphabet (depending on its distinction) and Facebook. However, most of the industry, in terms of frequency, are made of positions on the smaller, large-cap side. Can you guess one of the most infamous or, in better words, disappointing tech positions? Here is a clue, they opened up with a market cap of ~$28 Billion, hit its high the next day, and dropped 55% since its initial offering, which occurred a year and a half ago. If you guessed Snap Inc (or Snapchat) you have earned a pat on the back. Another security historically performing poorly, Twitter. Social media-esque firms have been criticized for their necessity to be a social ‘requirement’ and develop their revenue streams constantly.
A 2011 Aalto University research study discussed, in the abstract, what MySpace could do to keep up with the fast-paced growth of the social media realm. As abundantly clear now, MySpace is virtually non-existent. They have gone through different remodelings and ownerships but the platform is painfully on the verge of extinction. For this reason, if social media were the main a driver of the tech industry, there would be a much more concerning question about bubble potential. However, the only social media-esque firm in FAANG is Facebook and the strongest performers in the tech industry fall under the “legacy” category anyway.
Ultimately, the growth of the legacy group is not in question, especially if separated from the communications services sector. Citing Kostin, “The Zuckerberg hearing revealed to many government officials the scale of personal data that FB users had agreed to allow the firm to gather, raising regulatory risks.” And now under fire for allegations of improper shadow banning, there is a grim uncertainty for firms connected to Facebook, which focus mainly on Alphabet but further extend to the rest of the FAANG group. Companies connected with Facebook on Goldman Sachs’s radar have underperformed the industry.
With ensuing regulation, Alphabet’s strong connection with Facebook, and no apparent tech bubble, the future shines brightest for Microsoft, taking its third place spot on the trillion-dollar pedestal. I will be checking back in once we see a company approach quadrillion!
Recycling has been a growing phenomenon ever since environmentalists persuaded the government to implement more sustainable means when dealing with household waste. Growing up in a suburb of Philadelphia, my elementary school teachers frequently instructed us on the proper ways to recycle, whether that was looking at the bottom of various recyclables like milk or egg cartons to see whether they had the proper number in the “recycle logo” that indicated if we should or not should place them in the blue recycling bins.
Back then, there was more of a stress on the “three-bin system” that separated trash, recyclables, and compost. We learned of the three R’s and sang in unison the catchy phrase, “reduce, reuse, recycle.” Although many people and businesses are becoming more environmentally friendly, it seems senseless to ask where exactly all of our recyclables end up.
Surprisingly, for years, merchants in China have been buying American recyclables to sift through the heaping pounds of trash to collect scrap paper and cardboard for packaging purposes. Thus, all of the trash Americans put in their blue bins on their curbs are being compressed into 1-ton bales and sold to other countries overseas.
Going against this “three-bin system”, America has recently been trying to place as much recyclables into one bin and then shipping the waste to China. The responsibility then falls onto China to sort out the waste. This service cultivated “third world-like sorting operations,” and thousands of poor, rural migrants were employed to filter through the enormous piles of waste to recover the usable materials and throw away the rest.
Once the packing boxes are repurposed, they are then shipped back to the United States filled with Chinese-manufactured goods. China benefited greatly from business with America over the years because it is much cheaper to make cardboard or plastic using recycled material rather than making it from scratch.
To what extent does China impose on the importation of America’s recyclables? While the U.S. exports 30% of all recycled material, half of that 30% goes to China. According to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc., China imported 17 million tons for about $5.5 billion, in 2016. Although many regions of the U.S. export varying amounts to China, western states make up a large portion of China’s market in the exportation of recycled waste.
This repetitive cycle and synergistic relationship between China and the U.S. has been going on for years. Thus, it came as a shock to the U.S. in July of 2017 when Beijing notified the WTO of their plan to stop importing of “foreign garbage.” The ban would commence at the beginning of 2018.
Before the ban, most of the waste China imported was being thrown away in landfills. Thus, many of the recyclables that America believed were being reused were ultimately thrown away by China. Although many people have been recycling for years now, there is still a misconception as to what trash can be recycled and what cannot. Some materials that are found in recycling bins but should not be placed in them include: plastic grocery bags, grease-stained pizza boxes, and wax-coated frozen-food packages.
Speculations emerged saying China implemented this ban because Beijing “hopes to tap into its own growing consumer base as the foundation of its recycled materials industry.” A way for China to not experience the same environmental hazards when sifting through America’s waste is by implementing a rigorous program of inspecting piles of waste and sifting out the contaminated trash, food waste, or even materials with moisture in reject bales.
America has been highly dependent on China’s business in buying their “unwanted” materials. However, most Americans today have been unaware of these large exchanges with China throughout the years.
Consequentially, China’s import ban on America’s waste has caused the U.S. to frantically find a new market to purchase the recyclables. In the meantime, however, a large portion of the waste are being thrown away into landfills. This operation is the exact opposite of what recycling is supposed to do for the environment. It is astounding to know that in all of these years of recycling that China, not America, was the country reusing material for manufacturing. I assumed, while growing up, that America used their own facilities to operate on repurposing waste in hopes of being a more sustainable society. Sadly, I was wrong.
It is not uncommon for many organizations to have their products manufactured in China and then shipped back to America. One notable company is Hallmark, a manufacturer of greeting cards, based in Kansas City. Due to an increase in competition from the Internet, Hallmark has been “outsourcing its workforce overseas for the past decade.”
For any special occasions, Hallmark offers greeting cards that are made from 100% recycled material. These cards are much cheaper compared to other Hallmark cards. If one were to look at the back of these eco-friendly cards, one would most likely see the phrase: “Made in China.” It would not surprise me that Hallmark has been manufacturing many of their products abroad because of China’s large operations with repurposing cardboard and plastics. It will be interesting to see if China’s ban on the importation of America’s recyclables will have any impact on Hallmark.
America, a modernized country that is highly innovative in technology, has a societal duty to protect the environment. Therefore, the United States will have to put in more energy and attention to this issue of recycling in finding safer and cleaner ways of reusing material other than relying on countries overseas. Because the U.S. government has been in charge of this trade with China, I speculate that the government will try to find the easiest and cheapest way in disposing of our recyclables. I am certain that most Americans are unaware of these operations with China. Thus, I hope more people will learn about what really happens to their waste and support the need for the U.S. to actually recycle instead of throwing away the recyclables in landfills or exporting the remains to other countries.