Chine – USA, que faire pour réduire les risques ?

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Ray Dalio le dit dans une analyse doublement exemplaire :
– ayant collecté les données nécessaires pour comprendre la logique de chacune des parties (et quelques autres), il nous les livre sur un plateau ;
– négociateur très expérimenté, il a des idées claires et réalistes sur la voie à suivre pour dépasser les conflits inutiles .

Un tel travail se trouve au cœur des préoccupations de ce blog.
Je le relaie donc ici avec d’autant plus d’enthousiasme qu’il traite de l’un des enjeux stratégiques de la décennie en cours et de celles qui suivront.

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Voici les propositions sur lesquelles il conclut, traduites et adaptées pour les francophones…
Mutadis mutandis, elles valent pour tous les projets orientés vers un mieux vivre ensemble .

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Ce qui peut être fait

1.  Prévoir des rencontres constructives avec les hauts responsables politiques chinois qui visiteront les États-Unis et faire en sorte que la secrétaire au commerce Gina Raimondo, et la secrétaire au Trésor Yellen, se rendent bientôt en Chine.

2.   Faire en sorte qu’une délégation de sénateurs et/ou de représentants américains se rende en Chine. « S’ils peuvent se rendre à Taïwan, pourquoi ne pourraient-ils pas se rendre à Pékin ? m’a demandé un haut responsable de la politique étrangère de la Chine. Une délégation de sénateurs va se rendre en Asie. Ce serait un bon signe (pour ceux qui veulent la paix) s’ils visitaient la Chine et un mauvais signe s’ils ne le faisaient pas. »

3.   Définir les limites de l’inacceptable et convenir de moyens de communication à mettre en place pour éviter de s’embarquer vers le pire.

4.   Il serait souhaitable que le président Biden accueille le président Xi lors de la réunion de l’APEC en novembre à San Francisco. Si cela ne se fait pas, il faudra le regretter.

5.   Il faut surtout…

– que toutes les parties affirment clairement que la paix vaut mieux que la guerre,

– que la priorité pour chacune soit de s’accorder sur les moyens de réduire les risques d’aller vers une guerre à outrance,

– qu’elles s’attachent aussi à désamorcer méthodiquement les conflits de moindre importance qui, sans cela, pourraient s’envenimer.

Coopérons pour éviter le pire. Cela passe avant les projets de collaborer pour faire mieux (sur le changement climatique par exemple).

[L’analyse de Ray Dalio suit immédiatement, dans le texte original, donc en en anglais.]

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Ray Dalio – What I Think Is Going On 1) with China-US Relations, 2) with Their Relations with Other Countries, and 3) in China

In my last post, I described the big cycle template, consisting of the five major forces. Today’s postis the follow-up I promised, focusing on the great power conflict and what’s going on with China.

For nearly 40 years, I have been going to China. I have built very close friendships there and participated in its evolution, not in the pursuit of money but in the pursuit of meaningful work and meaningful relationships. I enjoyed an abundance of both and feel a deep commitment, like you would feel with your friends, to help. That has put me in the privileged and awkward position of being deeply attached to the two greatest powers in the world, which are on the brink of going to war with each other. I am in the middle trying to help both while trying not to hurt either side in the process of helping the other. I recently had two trips to China lasting 13 days that included many meetings and conversations with people from a variety of backgrounds. These trips, along with what I learned from other meetings with non-Chinese policy makers in other countries (including the US) and Chinese citizens and China experts outside of China, have given me the perspective that I am going to share with you here and now.

The purpose of this memo is to describe as accurately as I can what I believe to be true without any biased assessments of who is doing what right or wrong. My goal is simply to increase understanding to help minimize miscalculations. I will speak frankly, probably too frankly for some, because I believe in the power of collectively trying to objectively look at what’s true and explore what to do about it. At the same time please understand that while I believe the following to be true, I’m not certain of anything.

1. China-US Relations

The United States and China are on the brink of war and are beyond the ability to talk.

What I mean when I say that the US and China are on the brink of war is that it appears that they are close to having a sanctions war and/or military war that neither side wants but many believe will probably happen because a) each side is very close to the other’s red lines, b) each side is using brinksmanship to push the other at the risk of crossing each other’s red lines, and c) politics will probably cause more aggressive brinksmanship over the next 18 months. I want to emphasize that by saying that they are on the brink, I don’t mean to say that they will necessarily go over the brink. I mean to say that they are very close to crossing red lines that, if crossed, will irrevocably push them over the brink into some type of war that damages these two countries and causes damage to the world order in severe and irrevocable ways—like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine did for Russia and the world, just much bigger. 

As for the two sides not being able to talk with each other, what I mean is that discussions about big, important things have become exchanges of accusations that worsen relations rather than help them, so it is worse to have the discussions than to avoid them. While there are some tactical discussions aimed at preventing slipping over the edge into war (e.g., on topics like how to deal with Taiwan President Tsai’s visit to the US) and both sides agree that these tactical exchanges are good things, there is growing belief that the unavoidable trajectory is toward war. This belief is due to the unfolding of circumstances, politics in both countries, and geopolitical considerations.

As for politics as an influence, it is important to realize that the United States is not united and the Biden administration is not in control of dealing with China because the US political decision-making system is fragmented. As we saw in the Nancy Pelosi visit to Taiwan incident and in the balloon incident (and in many other less-publicized incidents), President Biden can’t speak for or control the United States by himself. While both parties and most Americans agree on being anti-China, they can’t agree on how much and in what ways.

The hawkish political influences in the United States will exert more pressure on the relationship over the next 18 months because of the emergence of the 2024 election season. That will be  a very risky period because China and the US are now already on the brink of war. The political timetable of the election cycle between now and the 2024 elections in the United States and Taiwan will likely lead to more push-the-limit anti-Chinese brinksmanship from the US. For example, US congressional hawks and their actions, such as hearings from Representative Gallagher’s Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, together with most candidates for the presidency, the Senate, and the House of Representatives appealing to a populace that wants its leaders to stand up to China, plus Taiwanese politics, will all likely lead to pushing to the brink of or beyond the red lines. Because China and the US are already at the edge of war, pushing hard against China over the next 18 months will be very risky. 

There are many red lines that will be pushed up against with brinksmanship over the next 18 months. Each one is risky, and together they carry a lot of risk. Here are some:

  • A well-known Chinese red line is the United States or Taiwan coming out in favor of Taiwanese independence. Everyone knows that if that happens, it will be considered an act of war by China. Looking ahead, there is a relatively high probability that the United States government in some form will come out in favor of defending Taiwan’s separation from China militarily and will sell Taiwan lethal military equipment to do so. A visit by Kevin McCarthy to Taiwan carrying a strong message of support for defending Taiwan, especially increased arms sales, or even such statements made without a visit would be pushing the red line.
  • Chinese military planes and ships are testing previously established red lines because of what the Chinese say are previously uninitiated provocations and because they claim it is their sovereign right because they see Taiwan as indisputably a part of China.
  • China’s dealings with Russia are leading the US and China to probe each other’s red lines in this relationship. For example, which technology constitutes lethal military equipment isn’t clearly agreed on because some equipment is dual-use. There is also a debate in China about why it is acceptable for NATO to provide lethal military equipment to Ukraine but not have China do the same for Russia.
  • Economic sanctions, most immediately around the US cutting off China’s access to essential chips, is testing Chinese red lines. In response, for the first time, China is considering reciprocating with its own sanctions against an American company. More specifically, it is now considering sanctioning Micron Technology, which would be financially devastating for the company because it derives about 25% of its revenue from China and Hong Kong. Naturally other US companies and companies that are considered allies of the US that have large dependencies on doing business with China are worrying and considering how to protect themselves.
  • Controlling essential technologies and minerals to defend against being cut off from them, and being able to cut off the opponent’s essential technologies and minerals, is now being done and is provocative. This self-reinforcing, economic-war-intensification dynamic is happening in classic ways explained in depth in my book Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order and is a leading indicator of war. It is leading to more onshoring and “friendshoring,” both of which are much less cost-effective and will reshape alliances. That is because virtually all countries are caught in the middle of the conflict; the choices they make will determine their alliances. For example, regarding the earlier-mentioned Micron Technology case, the US has already asked the South Korean government to influence its two major chip producers (Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix) to not increase sales to China if Micron is banned from selling its chips in China. What South Korea does in this case and other cases will define its relations with the United States and China. This dynamic is rapidly changing alliances. Another example is how Saudi Arabia’s relationships with the United States, China, and Russia have changed for logical reasons reflecting the relative changes in economic and military power—i.e., while the United States and Saudi Arabia used to have a very strong alliance in which the United States provided military protection and the KSA provided the US and its allies protections against oil supply and price disruptions, this has ceased to make sense as China and Russia now have more symbiotic interests with Saudi Arabia than the US does. This is also affecting currency and capital flows so that they align more with trade flows and geopolitical alliances. For these reasons, in an environment in which one wants to deal with “friends,” trade and investment is shifting to being more with allies than cost-effective sources. Watch the demand for key materials that can be squeezed—e.g., lithium, cobalt, rare earths, wafers and cells in solar energy technology, etc. We are on the brink of an economic resources war.
  • In addition to these things to argue over, there are many other types of disagreements happening—e.g., rules and protocols for doing business with Chinese companies, operating in outer space, cybersecurity, listing Chinese stocks on US exchanges, making investments in China, and too many others to list here. 

Most of these conflicts are likely to intensify over the next 18 months.

US-China relations are getting so bad that there is reason to worry that anti-China sentiment could make doing business with China like doing business with Russia, which would lead US-China trade to collapse. This would have similarly damaging economic consequences, though many times larger, severely hurting supply chains and trade. That would at a minimum cause severe economic consequences for the US, China, and the world and at a maximum could lead to military war.

These conflicts are affecting most countries’ and multinational companies’ relations and how the world is operating in innumerable ways that are intensifying.

What Would a War Look Like?

Now that there is a greater possibility of some form of war, there is more focus on what that war might look like and trying to reach some agreements about how to contain the possible types of war. For example, if there is going to be an economic/sanctions war, it would be good to have an agreement about what items are essential and what countries will be exempted from it, and if there is a military war it would be good to have agreements such as 1) no side’s military will directly kill the other side’s military, 2) no fighting will take place on the other side’s lands, and 3) neither side will use nuclear, cyber, and space weapons, etc. It is hoped that in that way, if there is war, it will be contained. All war is terrible and so those in charge should strive to avoid even a contained war like the NATO/Ukraine-Russia war in Ukraine. But such a contained war is not the worst-case scenario because history has shown that when conflicts have reached this stage 1) they have terrible economic consequences and 2) there is a high risk of moving from a contained war to an all-out war.

I should emphasize that almost all policy makers I speak with are scared of war, which is an impediment to war that might, but should not be assumed will, prevent it. Both sides have been very clear that they recognize that either an economic decoupling or a military confrontation would be disastrous, while they are testing each other’s limits.

All things considered, I think that the greater provocations will most likely come from the American side, which I worry will cause a tit-for-tat crossing of the line. While I expect that these provocations will likely lead China to make bellicose responses, I don’t believe the Chinese reactions to the provocations will be strong enough to prompt a war in the near future (i.e., the next three years) because the Chinese don’t want to go to war. I expect the Chinese side to be very restrained for the time being. In fact, it was said to me a number of times when I was in China that they believe that some Americans are trying to bait them into a trap (a war) that they want to avoid. If I saw more aggressive moves, especially if unprovoked from China, I would be even more concerned.

Virtually all of these issues are being dealt with via brinksmanship that is occurring dangerously close to each other’s red lines, which means that the United States and China are like two giants wrestling with each other six inches from the edge of a cliff and threatening to pull others into this dangerous fight. 

2.      Chinese and American Relations with Other Countries 

While there is a wide range of views among various countries’ leaders, there is a growing belief among Chinese and many other countries’ leaders that the United States is in decline, plagued with domestic issues. They believe that for this reason the US is no longer adequately guiding the world order, and, as a result of this void, the world is headed for a period of great disorder. There is a strong belief that the world is desperately in need of stronger multilateral 1) leadership, 2) systems, and 3) institutions, and that China is very likely to play a leading role in helping to provide these, but that disorder will likely precede a more peaceful new world order.

An example of the need for strong leadership to create multilateral systems and agreements that was given to me by a non-Chinese leader is that nine countries now have nuclear weapons, a few more are about to have them, and 75 could get them if nuclear proliferation isn’t controlled—so stronger leadership is needed to control it. Fears of a lack of global controls on the uses of new technologies, the spread of diseases, and many other things were similarly expressed.

Closer to home for the Chinese, the growing military powers and threats of South Korea, Japan, and Australia are concerning, especially if the changes in the world order lead these countries not to be confidently under the American umbrella. There is also a growing worry among several countries other than China about their own military dependence on the US being too great. The Chinese are seeing that the military buildup of these countries is coming more quickly than expected, which has “required” the Chinese to build their capabilities more quickly than expected. As shown in my book Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order, these sorts of increases in military expenditures have been good leading indicators of wars. Any leaders who know such things must be compelled to prepare for war, which itself increases the risk of war.

The fight for global influence is well underway and great splits between different countries’ leaders and even different political parties within countries exist, so while alliances are emerging, relationships are pretty unstable and fragmented.

For example, most European leaders recently visited President Xi in Beijing and expressed divergent views, though none was as anti-China and as strongly in support of defending Taiwan as the US position. French President Macron, who visited with 50 French business leaders who cut business deals with China, was most sympathetic to China, making clear that there was a “need to understand” China’s approach to Taiwan and Russia, criticizing the US for its provocations, warning against being caught in a crisis that Europeans aren’t a part of, warning against being a vassal state by following the US, and warning of dollar use between countries other than the US. Spanish Prime Minister Sanchez was similarly sympathetic toward China. German Chancellor Scholz and EU Commission President von der Leyen were more critical of China, but not as strongly as US officials have been.

Still, I think virtually all countries want to stay out of the conflict with China and want to go about business as usual recognizing that the days of doing business as usual are over. 

It is widely believed that the US is being overly aggressive with China and that is threatening to the world order, though the degrees of this view vary considerably.

From speaking with leaders of countries other than the US and China, the Chinese are offering an alternative to the American approach. This is not because these leaders believe that the way the Chinese are running their country is preferable to the way the Americans are running theirs, but because the Chinese are more willing to let those in other countries run their countries in the ways they want to while the Chinese are also more actively trading with and/or investing in them.

There is a general belief that the Americans are more strongly pushing their values and approaches (e.g., democracy, capitalism, and to some extent Christianity) than the Chinese are pushing theirs. It is often said by leaders in other countries that the Americans are trying to control them and draw them into war in a more heavy-handed way than the Chinese are doing. The Chinese point out that this way of dealing with other countries is consistent with their thousands of years old tradition of following a tribute system type of international relations (i.e., a symbiotic relationship between a stronger and a weaker power that benefits both and doesn’t seek to ideologically or politically control the lesser power). They find this more practical than what one leader called a “Mediterranean-based control approach” that is typical in the Western countries.

Some countries believe that while the Americans are trying to draw them into war (especially the Russia-Ukraine war), the Chinese are trying to facilitate peace. The 1) Saudi-Iranian deal and 2) the proposal of a path to peace in Ukraine (that neither Zelensky nor Putin criticized) are the two biggest news cases of this, but it is happening more subtly in numerous other cases.

Also weakening American influence is an increasingly held view that while the United States was once a very attractive place to be and to educate one’s children, it is no longer that place or what these leaders want their own countries to be like (e.g., with the drugs, gun violence, fights over social issues, breakdown of the infrastructure, political dysfunction, bad finances, etc.). 

In summary, all of these forces are leading to a changing world order in which the US seems to be retreating and the Chinese seem to be advancing to fill the void, and these two countries are on the brink of war.

I hear and I believe that for the United States to win this war of geopolitical influence it will have to be much stronger (i.e., “get its own house in order”) and present a more generous and preferable path to other nations. I have seen and experienced the power of a great America when people work well and smartly together to overcome their greatest challenges, and I know that Americans have the capacity to do so if they have the self-discipline needed.

3.      The Chinese Internal Environment

Governance is now: a) more dictatorial-autocratic (in their words, “legalist”), run by Xi with a tight and loyal team of capable followers whose backgrounds are more often coming from running provinces than working at the center of things in Beijing, b) with Marxist influences (in favor of redistributions of wealth and opportunities), and c) with tolerable amounts of capitalism sprinkled in (i.e., enough to promote entrepreneurial inventiveness and business efficiencies).

Xi made it clear that he is preparing for “the 100-year storm” on the horizon. History has shown that at such times, some form of dictatorial-autocratic management style is inevitable and most effective, and fragmented decision making is least effective. During periods of war, even democracies became more autocratic and the capitalist, profit-making resource allocation systems were replaced by top-down, command-economy resource allocation systems. Those who support Xi, which is most people, believe that this is what is now going on. Those who are more critical, including those who are more adversely affected by Xi’s policies and some who disagree as a matter of principle, say that this is a self-centered move to consolidate his political power so he can do what he wants for as long as he wants without broad debate.

In any case, China is now a high-control environment in which most important decisions are coming from the top down, there is great supervision, and most people, especially government officials and the “elites,” are afraid of misstepping. For example, there is CCP supervision over and embedded into just about everything, including most companies and non-company organizations. It was said to me by a high-ranking official that this is a time to be very careful, a bit like in the Cultural Revolution. The extent to which this perception exists varies according to the circumstances of the people that bring them into contact with the changes. Most people are going about their lives not noticing any big differences. Some say that this move to a more Maoist approach will pass, pointing to the period right after the Tiananmen incident as being just like this one and that there was a return to a much more open and reforming environment.

It is an anti-elitist and pro-proletariat environment. People in the young professional entrepreneur class have mixed feelings, though one expressed “the loss of the dream.” Some have said “the good times are over.” The more global ones are worried about being cut off from the rest of the world. Many Chinese wonder if they should get out while the getting is good. They remember the closing of the door in 1949. Many Chinese are leaving or thinking about how to have an alternative location. Rich Chinese are trying to figure out how to keep their riches and themselves safe. I understand that at the same time poor rural people and patriotic nationalists are very supportive of Xi and his policies.  

There is growing populism—i.e., people holding very strong, adversarial views—while the government is trying to control them to be of one view. While there is united leadership, there is relatively high internal conflict among factions and people about a lot of things. 

There is now a problem getting jobs. They need 5% growth to create 15 million new jobs.

The economy is now much more a command economy—e.g., each province has been given growth targets that they must hit, and if they don’t have adequate funding, it will be financed by special-purpose bonds.

At the same time, most Chinese people are living their lives as normal, oblivious to and largely unaffected by the changes. It will be very important for the government that there are no disruptions. The leadership is very conscious of how past emperors lost the “mandate of heaven” by not keeping the conditions adequate, so I think they want to try not to disrupt things. The COVID period was very bad, so a lingering bad period could be very precarious.

Still, the government wants to encourage entrepreneurs, though now entrepreneurs are wary because it’s no longer glorious to be rich. Policy makers want to control and reduce compensation, particularly in the financial sector, especially among government employees. In the public financial sector, which is undergoing significant institutional reform, people including bank employees and regulators are getting pay cuts of 30-50%, causing those in the public sector to go into the private sector, and there are worries in the private financial sector that there will be pay limitations or high taxes. “You’re earning too much” is commonly heard. It was pointed out to me that throughout Chinese history, it was not allowed for one to be both rich and in a powerful government position. For example, merchants, who were the lowest people in the social hierarchy, could not hold political office and their children could not sit for exams that would lead them to have jobs in the royal court. There is a deep-seated belief that this is best.

Technology is critically important (and an existential issue) for Chinese leaders, and they are worried about losing the technology race. For example:

a.      I heard it estimated that generative AI (ChatGPT-like technologies) are behind those in the US by at least two years and won’t be able to keep up (because they don’t have the chips), which will be a serious problem for them falling behind, which concerns them greatly. They know that this will have big implications in many critical industries.

b.      It is more difficult for these technologies that rely on lots of data/information from all over the world to work well because of barriers that prevent information from getting in.

c.       They are very excited about augmented reality for science.

d.      They are digitizing proteins that have remarkable impacts in bioengineering.

e.      They believe that technology is a double-edged sword that needs global regulation or could be ruinous.

f.        They have developed solar and wind energy that is cheaper than coal energy, so they will be replacing coal, though leaving coal plants in place as a backup. They can be a big contributor and leader in green technologies.

g.      Demographics will require the government to make huge budget changes to provide support. They are not producing enough babies—babies are most expensive because they cost money without earning money. 

As far as the new leaders are concerned, they are saying all the right things that investors in China would want to hear about opening up and being a peacemaker in the world, and they are even continuing to do the right things—e.g., my and Bridgewater’s dealings with the regulators have been excellent. They still have a lot of respect and credibility.

Ideological differences to keep in mind are:

  • China pursues more of a top-down approach (especially in difficult times) whereas the US has a more bottom-up, revolutionary, and anarchistic approach. For example, in China the government controls the data, whereas in the US nobody wants the government to control the data and the struggle is between the individuals and the companies to control it.
  • China under this leadership is more Marxist-communist—i.e., wanting to create more equal opportunities and outcomes—while the US is more capitalist, which leads to greater efficiencies and greater opportunity and greater wealth and income gaps.
  • People in China are generally not religious (they are more neo-Confucian), while the United States is more religious (particularly Christian).
  • China strongly believes that the approaches that are used within a country’s sovereign borders are not the business of other countries. They expect that from others dealing with China and are inclined to deal that way with other countries. Said differently, they believe more in a tribute system type of approach to international relations. The United States believes more that there are universal rights and wrongs that it understands best so that it is important that it and those who are good in the world enforce them. 

Things That Can Be Done

  1. Have good meetings with Chinese senior policy makers who will be visiting the United States and have US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Treasury Secretary Yellen visit China soon.
  2. Have a delegation of US senators and/or representatives visit China. “If they can visit Taiwan, why can’t they visit Beijing?” one very senior China foreign policy maker asked me. There will be a delegation of senators visiting Asia. It would be a good sign (for those who want peace) if they visit China and a bad sign if they don’t.
  3. Establish very sharp and clear red lines and clear lines of communications for dealing with the worst-case scenarios.
  4. Have President Biden host President Xi at the APEC meeting in November in San Francisco. If that happens it will be a good sign, and if it doesn’t happen it will be a bad sign.
  5. Have all parties make clear that peace is better than war, that working on agreeing on ways to reduce the probabilities of having the worst types of wars is a top priority, and that gradually building agreements to reduce the progressively less bad types of conflict would be the best path. That would be much more productive than first trying to find some way of cooperating (e.g., dealing with climate change) while leaving how to deal with the worst-case scenarios neglected. 

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