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A NEW GEOPOLITICAL LANDSCAPE
In the aftermath of the Cold War, the world has largely been dominated by the United States, establishing a unipolar global order. However, shifts in geopolitics are now challenging this dynamic, steering us towards a more multipolar world. This geopolitical pivot is reshaping the proverbial chessboard, largely unchanged since the Bretton Woods Agreement. It will significantly impact future investment trends, the US Dollar, Treasury market, and commodities. No market player will be left unaffected and this evolution offers opportunities for certain regions, economies and sectors to shine.
During the unipolar era, despite isolated conflicts, major nations maintained a semblance of peace. But the new world order yearns for recognition based on population size and economic prowess, which they feel are overlooked by post-1945 establishments like the G7 and G20. Not a bipolar, but a multipolar world is on the horizon, as countries such as India, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Singapore are no longer willing to just toe the line, but prefer to act based on their own national interests.
One noteworthy transition that aligns with this shift towards multipolarity is the evolution of the world’s economic focus from a US-centric to a China-centric model in just two short decades. Interestingly, this transition hasn’t always translated into political clout, but the parallels are hard to ignore. The narrative that the West is unanimously against Russia, for instance, isn’t universally accepted. Many nations, especially those with strong ties to China, have maintained neutrality or refrained from imposing sanctions on Russia.
This new geopolitical landscape is also giving rise to fresh alliances, with organisations like OPEC+ and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) gaining strength. Particularly noteworthy is the BRICS+ initiative: Coined by Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs in 2001, BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) referred to these rising economic powers. This idea was transformed into an organisation in 2009, with a growing ambition to reduce reliance on the US dollar and the US-dominated Swift payment system. The initiative’s appeal has surged, largely due to Western sanctions on Russia and China’s convincing portrayal of its trade and infrastructure benefits, encouraging more countries, especially in the Global South, to jump on board.
AN ALLIANCE OF THE AGGRIEVED
China seems to be spearheading the fresh era of globalisation, fostering alliances with aggrieved nations through initiatives such as the Belt & Road, BRICS+, and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. These platforms offer a common stage for countries, primarily from the Global South, with shared histories of oppression and exploitation, often at the hands of the West. Central to this narrative is China’s own rise from colonial victim to global power, acting as a lighthouse for nations less inclined towards liberal democracy.
The cohesion among these aggrieved nations is growing, seen in the expansion of regional bodies like the SCO, EAEU, ASEAN, CSTO, the BRICS and the RCEP. Technology, specifically social media, is instrumental in information dissemination. Moreover, China’s model of economic development — stressing ‘mutual respect’, ‘equality’, and ‘non-interference’ — offers an alternative vision for the non-aligned nations that make up around two-thirds of the global population.
The West may soon feel the ripple effects of this discontent, notably in the form of climate reparations. Vulnerable countries, especially from Africa, the Caribbean, and Pacific regions, are raising their voices and demanding compensation for the climate-related challenges they have endured, despite their limited role in causing them.
Indian Prime Minister Modi’s statement exemplifies this emerging consciousness. He argues for the Global South – home to three-fourths of humanity – to have a proportionate say in global governance and address challenges that impact them disproportionately, even if they didn’t cause them. Despite being seen as a cooperative partner against China in the West, India is underlining its commitment to ‘strategic autonomy’ in shaping the new world order.
THE END OF THE USD AS THE WORLD’S RESERVE CURRENCY?
While the greenback’s dominant role in global trade might diminish further, it’s important to remember that this has been an ongoing transition, not a sudden plunge. In the wake of the weaponisation of the USD (and the EUR since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine), countries are increasingly dealing directly, giving the third-party dollar less of a seat at the trade table. Even so, let’s not forget that the USD still underpins roughly 70% of the world’s outstanding debt – many emerging nations still have greenback obligations.
Will this trend continue devalue the dollar? The answer isn’t necessarily straightforward. Foreign exchange rates are jigsaw puzzles with multiple pieces – interest rates, rate changes, budget and current account balance, to name but a few. Importantly, all fiat currencies tend to devalue over time. Fortunately for the USD, higher interest rates have made a comeback, providing a shield against currency erosion driven by inflation. And for those seeking another safe haven, gold stands tall as a timeless safeguard against currency debasement.
FROM GLOBAL TRENDS TO LOCAL IMPACT
In an era where wealth protection is paramount, it’s compelling to consider investments that offer a hedge against inflation. Interestingly, many emerging markets currently exhibit lower inflation rates than their Western counterparts – a departure from historical trends. Thus, we believe bonds from these nations, offering a yield of around 7% to 8% and substantial real yields, provide an appealing diversification for fixed income portfolios. Further, some investors may wish to directly contribute towards countering climate change impacts, particularly in regions like Africa, Latin America, and Asia. To this end, incorporating Micro Finance into traditional multi-asset portfolios can be beneficial. This asset class, comprised of numerous small, short-term loans with generally low loss rates, not only potentially yields a steady return of around 4-5%, but can also significantly enhance the daily life of individuals and small businesses in these countries.
As the world continues to embrace multipolarity, we foresee a challenging environment ahead with potential increases in volatility over the years to come. However, to us, volatility equals opportunity, and we are ready to turn these opportunities into added value for our investors – while leaving a positive mark on society.
Degroof Petercam Asset Management SA/NV l rue Guimard 18, 1040 Brussels, Belgium l RPM/RPR Brussels l TVA BE 0886 223 276 l
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