Led by China, a new billionaire is created in Asia every other day

NEW YORK/ZURICH (BLOOMBERG) - 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$8.16 trillion) in 2016, after a decline the previous year, UBS and PricewaterhouseCoopers said in a report issued on Thursday (Oct 26).

Led by China, the number of the region's billionaires surpassed the US for the first time.

Asia's economic expansion saw, on average, a new billionaire created in the region every other day. Should that pace continue, Asia would overtake US as the world's largest concentration of wealth in four years.

But don't shed a tear for the richest folks in the US: American billionaires still control the most wealth at US$2.8 trillion, the report said in an analysis of data from roughly 1,550 billionaires.

The gain in total billionaire wealth was twice the 8.5 per cent increase of the MSCI AC World Index.

"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, citing interviews with Asia's richest people.

Three-quarters of the world's new billionaires hail from China and India. The number of Asia billionaires rose by 117 for a total of 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 Oct 25.

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.

In fact, the emergence of great wealth is bolstering art and sports more than ever before. As art prices have skyrocketed since early 2000s, more billionaires have turned to art both as a status symbol and an asset.

Among the world's top 200 art collectors, almost three-quarters were billionaires in 2016, up from 28 in 1995. A Japanese billionaire, Yusaku Maezawa, was the buyer of this year's most expensive artwork at auction, a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat for $110.5 million.

More than 140 top sports clubs around the world are owned by 109 billionaires, who are on average 68 years old with a wealth of US$5 billion, according to the survey.

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. In addition to publishing the annual billionaires report, the Swiss bank has been building out a chief investment office specifically for its wealthiest clients.

"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.