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Physicists Untangle Complicated Webs to Reveal that the World’s Finances are Controlled by “Just a Few Mutual Funds, Banks, and Corporations”

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Washington’s Blog
Saturday, August 29, 2009

Inside Science – a news service supported by the American Institute of Physics – is breaking an important story:

A recent analysis of the 2007 financial markets of 48 countries has revealed that the world’s finances are in the hands of just a few mutual funds, banks, and corporations. This is the first clear picture of the global concentration of financial power, and point out the worldwide financial system’s vulnerability as it stood on the brink of the current economic crisis.

A pair of physicists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich did a physics-based analysis of the world economy as it looked in early 2007. Stefano Battiston and James Glattfelder extracted the information from the tangled yarn that links 24,877 stocks and 106,141 shareholding entities in 48 countries, revealing what they called the “backbone” of each country’s financial market. These backbones represented the owners of 80 percent of a country’s market capital, yet consisted of remarkably few shareholders.

“You start off with these huge national networks that are really big, quite dense,” Glattfelder said. “From that you’re able to … unveil the important structure in this original big network. You then realize most of the network isn’t at all important.”

The most pared-down backbones exist in Anglo-Saxon countries, including the U.S., Australia, and the U.K. … But while each American company may link to many owners, Glattfelder and Battiston’s analysis found that the owners varied little from stock to stock, meaning that comparatively few hands are holding the reins of the entire market.

“If you would look at this locally, it’s always distributed,” Glattfelder said. “If you then look at who is at the end of these links, you find that it’s the same guys, [which] is not something you’d expect from the local view.”

Matthew Jackson, an economist from Stanford University in Calif. who studies social and economic networks, said that Glattfelder and Battiston’s approach could be used to answer more pointed questions about corporate control and how companies interact.

“It’s clear, looking at financial contagion and recent crises, that understanding interrelations between companies and holdings is very important in the future,” he said. “Certainly people have some understanding of how large some of these financial institutions in the world are, there’s some feeling of how intertwined they are, but there’s a big difference between having an impression and actually having … more explicit numbers to put behind it”…

Physicists Untangle Complicated Webs to Reveal that the Worlds Finances are Controlled by Just a Few Mutual Funds, Banks, and Corporations  290509banner

The results will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Physical Review E.

The physicists name names. As Inside Science notes:

Based on their analysis, Glattfelder and Battiston identified the ten investment entities who are “big fish” in the most countries. The biggest fish was the Capital Group Companies, with major stakes in 36 of the 48 countries studied.

While it is true that the paper in the Physical Review E has not yet been published, I have found a draft version of their article from February which shows that the top 10 list of most powerful financial institutions (from most to least powerful) is as follows:

1. The Capital Group of Companies

2. Fidelity Management & Research

3. Barclays PLC

4. Franklin Resources

5. AXA

6. JP Morgan Chase

7. Dimensional Fund Advisors

8. Merrill Lynch

9. Wellington Management Company

10. UBS

Other tidbits:

  • Non-American players Deutsche Bank, Brandes Investment Partners, Societe Generale, Credit Suisse, Schroders PLC and Allianz are also in the top 21 positions.
  • The government of Singapore is number 25.
  • The world’s largest banking group – HSBC Holdings PLC – only chimes in at number 26.

The data analyzed in the study is from 2007, and the playing field may have changed substantially since then.

Further analysis using this new methodology may yield important information. For example, given the massive government intervention in the markets, it is important to ask who controls stock now.

This article was posted: Saturday, August 29, 2009 at 3:24 am





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