Global billionaire wealth falls for 1st time in 3 years

World's richest lost $528b in 2018, but S'pore saw growth

NEW YORK/ZURICH • The world's billionaires saw their collective fortunes dip last year for the first time in three years, erasing US$388 billion (S$527.5 billion) of their net worth.

Asia was hardest hit, as slowing growth in China and rising United States interest rates resulted in an 8 per cent wealth drop among that continent's richest people, according to the UBS/PwC Billionaires Report released yesterday.

But those in Singapore boosted their affluence. The total billionaire wealth in Singapore grew by 11 per cent, reaching US$71.3 billion.

The number of billionaires in Singapore last year remained unchanged from the year before at 22. Of these, 14 were first-generation, or self-made, billionaires. The top three wealth-driving industries in Singapore were real estate, consumer and retail, and material.

In China, however, the net worth of the country's richest dropped 12.8 per cent in dollar terms on the back of tumbling stock markets and a weaker local currency, and as growth in the country slowed to its lowest level in nearly three decades last year, the report found, knocking dozens off the billionaires list.

Despite the drop, China continues to produce a new billionaire every two to 21/2 days, said Mr Josef Stadler, head of ultra-high net worth at UBS Global Wealth Management.

Those in the US fared better, fuelled by tech billionaires, who numbered 89 by the end of last year, up from 70 a year earlier.

The billionaire boom "has now undergone a natural correction", said Mr Stadler in the report.

"The stronger dollar, combined with greater uncertainty over equity markets amidst a tough geopolitical environment", were the main drivers, he said.

Excessive wealth has become an increasingly contentious issue globally, with some US presidential candidates making it central to their campaigns. Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, has proposed a 6 per cent wealth tax on assets over $1 billion, while Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has said that billionaires should not exist at all.

Beyond Washington, protesters from Hong Kong to France are seeking a reckoning for the rich, citing decades of inequality as a cause of their frustration.

Even with last year's dip, billionaires' wealth increased almost 35 per cent - or US$2.2 trillion - since 2013, according to the report.

"We've seen that these people can be successful and drive change regardless of who's in a leadership role on the political scene," said Mr John Mathews, who oversees UBS Group's private wealth and ultra-high net worth business in the Americas.

BLOOMBERG/REUTERS

• Additional reporting by Joanna Seow

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2019, with the headline 'Global billionaire wealth falls for 1st time in 3 years'. Print Edition | Subscribe