Asia now has more billionaires than US: Report

China's rich take region's top spot, but US dominates in controlling most global wealth

NEW YORK • The world's wealthiest individuals are on a roll with billionaires in Asia leading the pack.

Billionaire wealth increased 17 per cent to US$6 trillion (S$8.2 trillion) last year, after a decline in 2015, UBS and PricewaterhouseCoopers said in a report yesterday.

Led by China, the number of the region's billionaires surpassed that in the United States for the first time. But do not shed a tear for the richest folks in the US: American billionaires still control the most wealth at US$2.8 trillion.

The gain in total billionaire wealth was twice the 8.5 per cent increase of the MSCI AC World Index. Asia's economic expansion saw, on average, a new billionaire created in the region every other day. Should that pace continue, Asia would overtake the US in having the world's largest concentration of wealth in four years, the Swiss bank and the auditing firm said in an analysis of data from roughly 1,550 billionaires.

"A combination of geopolitical stability in Greater China, rising Chinese real estate prices, infrastructure spending, the growing middle class and buoyant commodity prices all joined together to boost wealth," the report said.

Three-quarters of the world's new billionaires hail from China and India. The number of Asian billionaires rose by 117 to 637, with self-made billionaires seeing their wealth rise faster than those who became rich through family ties.

The US added 25 billionaires for a total of 563. Europe's number was basically flat at 342 in part due to death and because "entrepreneurial companies can find Europe a difficult place to do business due to both the conservative business culture and strict regulations," UBS said.

The world's 500 richest people have added US$824 billion so far this year, an increase of 19 per cent, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Their total net worth is estimated at US$5.2 trillion as of Wednesday.

Peer networks are playing an increasingly important role for billionaires when it comes to making and giving away money, the survey said.

"Informal and formal networks orchestrate deals and investments, as well as helping with other topics such as philanthropy, inheritance and art," according to the report.

Billionaires are a key target segment for UBS, the world's largest wealth manager, as the bank expects the wealth of ultra-high-net-worth individuals to grow faster than the world average.

"The fantastic run for equities in the past 10 years means that returns in the next 10 will likely be more muted," UBS chief investment officer Mark Haefele said earlier this week in a note to investors. "But stocks remain most likely to outperform all other asset classes."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2017, with the headline 'Asia now has more billionaires than US: Report'. Print Edition | Subscribe