There are trends and then there are megatrends.
It is the latter which money managers around the world have their eye on in order to manage their portfolios into the future.
At the Milken Global Conference in Los Angeles on Monday, that future had an exact date — 2040.
And in 2040, the panelists see a few themes standing out — an ageing population, a bigger urban population in Africa and Asia, the emergence of China, and the emergence of environmentally sustainable infrastructure as a profitable investment.
The future is still distant, but the opportunities are starting to reveal themselves now.
Before we jump into these megatrends, here are the panelists.
- Victor Chu, Chairman, First Eastern Investment Group
- Taimur Hyat, Chief Strategy Officer, PGIM, the Global Investment Management Businesses of Prudential Financial, Inc.
- Catherine Keating, President and CEO, Commonfund
- Rebecca Patterson, Managing Director and Chief Investment Officer, Bessemer Trust Cos.
- Mike Ramsay, Partner and Chief Investment Officer, Global Credit, Generation Investment Management
We’re getting old
The entire world is getting old. It’s also getting healthier, which means it’s going to get older than ever before. By 2040, people around the world over 65 will eclipse entire the US population.
So how are investors thinking about that?
“We’re drilling down on smart cars,” said Patterson. “Cars are getting smarter, They’re getting safer for older people… the senior citizens don’t have to take the shuttle to the grocery store. What’s it going to do to traffic in places like Miami? It’s going to be horrific.”
The panel also pointed out that senior housing has only become a phenomena in the US so far, but other countries will need to take care of the elderly as well.
We are moving (especially to cities)
“Over the next 50-70 years you’ll have millions of people less in rural emerging markets in Asia, that means agriculture will have to change,” said Hyat.
Without millions to farm in rural areas, farming in developing countries will have to become more mechanised. That’s an opportunity.
Meanwhile, those millions of people — not just from Asia, but from Africa’s exploding population — will have moved to cities around the world.
“The world will be more urbanized, with 200 to 300 more cities with over a million people,” said Patterson.
“Cities, rather than countries, then may become the unit of analysis … for investments and possibly for economic and political actions,” she added.
We are seeing China change rapidly
China is working quickly to execute plans to become a global economic powerhouse, but the panelists said you have to be careful investing there.
There is opportunity, however, in China’s burgeoning municipal bond market. For years the government has been trying to turn its local government debt into a liquid bond market
That means when people run for a sleepy investment, 10 to 20 years from now, they might have an option besides US Treasury bonds.
We are seeing environmentally sustainable infrastructure start to pay off
“For many investors in [green] infrastructure projects, we are not talking about them as social projects… but as a reasonable… investments,” said Chu.
This is happening in China and Singapore in particular. The projects are generating cash flow with little risk, he added. The programs take 18 months to implement, and the savings can last for 25 years.
“The host wins, investor wins, society wins,” he said.
Keating said that the last year of looking at these projects was a “real wake up call” for her.
It used to be that the only interested investors were non-profits and institutional investors mandated to invest in social good. Not anymore. Now she’s getting “question from everywhere about the world being lower carbon.”
It was with this topic that the panel really got into the risk of looking too far into the future.
How do you know when the “transition period” as Keating called it, is over and it’s time to go all in?
“A lot of the rhetoric today is divest [from fossil fuels]…” or engage with the green. “There has to be a middle ground,” she said.
After all, investing is mostly about timing. Some of these megatrends aren’t ready for your money yet.
You just have to follow them closely, and be ready to jump in.
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