Despite global economic uncertainties, the euro zone debt crisis, and fears of a hard landing in China, the mega-rich — the one percent of the one percent — have had a great year.
The world’s billionaire club has added to its numbers and increased its wealth even as equity, currency, and commodity markets have suffered one of their most volatile periods. The number of billionaires worldwide grew 9.4 percent to 2,160, expanding their wealth by 14 percent to $6.19 trillion — a $760 billion jump over the previous year, according to research firm Wealth-X.
Wealth creation among billionaires did vary according to regions, depending on the extent of the economic slowdown in their part of the world. The overall wealth of the larger group of ultra-high-net-worth individuals, those worth $30 million and more, dropped nearly 2 percent this year.
Here is a list of the top 10 countries with the most billionaires for the period between August 2011 and July 31, 2012 compiled by Wealth-X.
Read ahead to find out where the mega-rich live.
1. United States
Billionaire count: 480
Total wealth: $2.05 trillion
The United States still leads the world with its billionaire tally, far outpacing its closest competitor China with a whopping 333 more billionaires.
Despite the economic headwinds, the U.S. minted 25 new billionaires in the past year, which is a 5.5 percent increase from the previous year. Their combined wealth also grew nearly 8 percent from the previous year to $2.05 trillion. American billionaires account for less than 1 percent of the population of those with $30 million or more, but control nearly a quarter of the group’s total fortune of $8.28 trillion. On average, these billionaires are worth $4.3 billion each. The country’s ultra-rich saw their wealth increase by more than 3 percent, while the group’s population grew by nearly 4 percent, compared to the previous year — outpacing U.S. GDP growth.
California is the number one state for the ultra-wealthy, followed by New York, Texas, Florida, and Illinois. A major driver of wealth for the ultra-rich was the U.S. equity markets, with the S&P 500 index up over 7 percent between August 2011 and July 2012. As a result, 2,250 people joined the ranks of the $30 million and over club in the past year. Despite the fast pace of growth in America’s ultra-rich numbers, Wealth-X projects that Asia’s ultra-wealthy population will surpass that of the U.S. by 2025, while their combined wealth will overtake them by 2020.
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Billionaire count: 147
Total wealth: $380 billion
China ranks second in the world when it comes to the number of billionaires, but in terms of total wealth, the country is behind Germany and the U.K., tying with Russia for fourth spot.
Billionaires account for 1.3 percent of those with $30 million or more in the world’s second biggest economy, while they control over 24 percent of the group’s $1.58 trillion wealth. On average, Chinese billionaires are worth almost $2.6 billion each and the top five cities with the most ultra-rich people are Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Hangzhou.
In the past year, however, Chinese billionaires have lost nearly a third of their wealth , down to $380 billion from $540 billion in the previous year. The slump in wealth reflects the overall trend in the region, with Asia’s ultra-rich seeing the biggest drop in wealth compared to anywhere else in the world. Poor performance of China’s equity market, with the Shanghai Composite Index falling 20 percent over August 2011 to July 2012, was one of the main reasons for the drop in wealth. Individuals holding manufacturing assets and real estate in China’s coastal provinces were the hardest hit, as factory production moved inland because of high labor costs, according to Wealth-X.
3. United Kingdom
Billionaire count: 140
Total wealth: $430 billion
The United Kingdom has the largest number of billionaires in Europe, beating Germany by three, but it still lags Germany in terms of total wealth of the group by $120 billion.
The U.K.’s billionaires account for 1.3 percent of the population that is worth $30 million and more. They also hold nearly 33 percent of the total fortune of this group of ultra-rich. On average, these billionaires are worth $3.1 billion each. The ultra-rich group’s wealth grew by nearly 4 percent compared to the previous year, while its numbers grew by 0.2 percent. The U.K.’s ultra-rich population has benefited from the perception that the country is a safe haven for wealth amid the region’s uncertain economic conditions. More than a third of U.K.’s ultra-rich comprises non-domiciled residents.
There is also diversity in U.K.’s ultra-wealthy population with Caucasians making up almost 62 percent of this group, followed by South Asians at 28 percent, and people of Chinese, North Asian, and Middle Eastern descent accounting for more than 8 percent, according to Wealth-X.
The real estate sector has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of foreign wealth, with 65 percent of the Central London office market being purchased by foreign investors in 2011, according to real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle. However, the prospect of a recession this year in the U.K. and a worsening euro zone debt crisis could reverse the current wealth inflows from risk-averse Europeans, according to Wealth-X.
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Billionaire count: 137
Total wealth: $550 billion
Germany is the only euro zone country to make the list of the most billionaires, bucking the trend of declining wealth in the majority of the bloc’s nations.
The country’s 137 billionaires account for less than 1 percent of the ultra-high net worth group, but control nearly 27 percent of the total fortune in the segment. The ultra-rich are those that have $30 million or more in assets. German billionaires are worth $4 billion each on average, and the three cities with the maximum number of ultra-rich are Munich, Dusseldorf, and Hamburg.
A nearly three percent fall in its equity market and a 13 percent drop in the value of the euro during the period between August 2011 and July 2012 did little to knock off wealth creation in Germany, according to Wealth-X. In Europe’s largest economy, the combined wealth of the ultra-rich group grew by 5.3 percent from the previous year, even as their numbers fell 1.4 percent.
Billionaire count: 109
Total wealth: $190 billion
India, together with its BRIC peers — Brazil, Russia, and China — makes a big part of the top 10, highlighting the scale of wealth being created in emerging economies. Asia’s third largest economy, together with Japan and China, accounts for about 75 percent of the region’s ultra-rich population.
Billionaires in India make up 1.4 percent of the total ultra-rich, or those with $30 million in assets, and control more than 20 percent of the combined fortune of this group. On average, Indian billionaires are worth close to $1.7 billion each. They have seen their total wealth decline over 7 percent in 2012 from last year, while their population has fallen by more than 5 percent. The lower numbers reflect a broader trend of declining wealth in India, as its ultra-rich population saw the biggest drop in the world with 485 people leaving the ranks of the ultra-wealthy. They also lost nearly 6 percent of their total fortune, compared to the previous year.
Some of the major factors behind the decline in wealth are the volatility in the Indian stock market and the depreciation in the Indian rupee. Indian stocks fell nearly 25 percent between April 2011 and July 2012, and its currency declined more than 9 percent against the U.S. dollar. Slowing economic growth and infrastructure bottlenecks have also plagued investment in the country. The Indian economy grew at its slowest pace in almost three years in the second quarter of this year.
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