The global economy is bloodied and bruised, but it is healing.
That is especially true of the high-net-worth segment of the population – people who are worth more than $1-million (U.S.), not including their homes.
Even as much of the world grapples with the aftershocks of the Great Recession, almost 11 million people found themselves in that classification last year. That’s an increase of about 10 per cent from the year before, according to the 15th annual World Wealth Report by Merrill Lynch’s wealth management division and consultancy Capgemini. This tiny percentage of the world’s population controls $42.7-trillion of global resources – $2-trillion more than before the crash in 2008.
For the first time ever, Asia had more high-net-worth people than Europe – and was fast approaching North America’s levels. The rising number of millionaires in Asia is a reflection of the extraordinary growth of the Chinese and Indian economies, which both grew about 10 per cent last year.
“It is entirely conceivable that Asia would overtake North America in the near future,” said Wilson So, a managing director at Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management. “I would be surprised if that does not happen very soon.”
The financial crisis saw a drastic drop in the number of millionaires and the amount of wealth they controlled. After a quick rebound in 2009, their numbers grew at a slower pace last year as they invested in the markets once more – albeit more conservatively.
Of the wealthy, only 0.9 per cent fell into the category of “super rich,” people who are worth more than $30-million. These people, who number fewer than 100,000, hold the purse strings for more than a third of these individuals’ total wealth.
Here’s a look at the world of wealth:
For the first time, Asia was home to more millionaires than Europe. Domestic demand in China, India and Singapore helped boost GDP by 8.3 per cent.
The fast-growing region now hosts 3.3 million high-net-worth individuals, just behind North America at 3.4 million.
The elite in Asia are relatively young. Forty-one per cent of Asia’s millionaires are younger than 45, compared to the global average of 17 per cent. Nearly 70 per cent are younger than 56.
With these younger millionaires comes an appetite for fast cars and fine wines. Mercedes-Benz said its sales in China more than doubled in 2010, while Ferrari said its sales rose by 50 per cent. And at Sotheby’s Hong Kong wine auction, sales almost tripled from the year before.
While the number of millionaires in Japan grew in 2010, it’s unlikely to be a good year for the nation’s wealthy. The devastating earthquake and tsunami in March, coupled with an aging population and a struggling economy, mean tough times ahead.
But Japanese women have taken steps to decrease the gender gap. No longer must they contemplate how to marry millionaires – they’re becoming them instead. Nearly 540,000 Japanese women are millionaires, making up 31 per cent of the country’s total. These women outnumber the total number of millionaires from Italy, Brazil, and India combined. Globally, only 27 per cent of millionaires are women. Most are in Japan or North America.
Steel baron Lakshmi Mittal and oil tycoon Mukesh Ambani may be two of the richest men in the world, according to Forbes, but they aren’t the only millionaires in India. India edged its way into the top 12 countries with the highest population of millionaires for the first time in 2010.
The rich can’t seem to get a break in Europe.
Debt crises in Greece, Ireland, Spain, Italy and Portugal not only tested the limits of the European Union, but it also meant a steeper climb for the region’s millionaires.
European millionaires controlled more than 26 per cent of the rich world’s resources before the recession. But as the region grapples with debt problems, that portion fell a few percentages points and is likely to continue to slide.
Greece and Ireland were the biggest drain on the region in 2010, but the region’s problems are far from over as economic turmoil continues to plague Greece.
As for Italy, it might be time to take back that Louis Vuitton. It’s the only country with fewer millionaires in 2010 than 2009 in the top 12 list.
Latin America, home to only 4 per cent of the world’s millionaires, is home to 17 per cent of the total wealth of the rich.
Capital flooded to emerging markets, such as Brazil, because interest rates were higher than in the developed world. Although this caused inflation, it put cash into hands of the rich.
Latin America’s millionaires are partial to the finer things in life. These millionaires were more likely to invest in expensive art than their European counterparts, according to the report.
North American millionaires put their trust back in equities as investor confidence grew in 2010.
Unlike Asia, the wounds from the recession are still taking a toll on the elite. They have yet to achieve their pre-financial crisis levels of wealth.
In 2010, emerging economies were largely responsible for the purchase of “investments of passion,” as the report calls them. North American investors took a back seat to Russian, Asian, and Middle Eastern millionaires at auctions for diamonds, artwork, and jets.
Although it’s hard to feel too sorry for them – North America is still home to the highest number of millionaires who control the most wealth.
Canada has the seventh highest number of millionaires in the world.