Billionaires across the world piled on more riches with the ultra-wealthy in Asia now outnumbering the traditional leaders, the US, according to research published today.
The total wealth of billionaires worldwide rose by 17 per cent in 2016 to reach $6 trillion (£4.5 trillion), equivalent to more than double the UK’s annual economic output, according to banking group UBS and accountants PwC.
Billionaire wealth grew at double the rate of the MSCI World Index, one of the broadest measures of global company performance, suggesting that the ultra-rich are amassing wealth at a faster rate than the less well off.
The dramatic increase in wealth followed a five per cent dip in 2015. The reports' authors noted: "Despite a period of heightened geopolitical uncertainty, the world’s ultrawealthy are flourishing."
Billionaires in materials, technology, financial services and industrials all accounted for fast growth in wealth, the index found, with rises in commodity prices particularly benefiting billionaires in the mining, steel and oil industries, the report's authors said. Meanwhile fluctuations in the value of the dollar also provided a boost to non-US billionaires.
The research analysed 1,542 billionaires worldwide, a 10 per cent rise year-on-year. The research covered around 80 per cent of global billionaire wealth, meaning the total number may be higher, the report said.
A new billionaire was created in Asia every two days during 2016, the research found. There are now 637 US dollar billionaires in Asia, compared to 563 in the US.
The combined wealth of Asian billionaires rose by almost a third to reach $2 trillion, although that still lags behind the US where billionaires are wealthier on average. The remarkable surge in Asian wealth was driven by the continued rise of China, which saw economic output grow by 6.7 per cent during 2016, far outstripping the UK, US and other developed economies.
Nevertheless, the wealth held by American billionaires still grew by $400bn since 2015, the research shows. US billionaires now hold around $2.8 trillion in wealth.
However, a "significant shift" in the geographic dispersion of wealth will likely see the US overtaken on this metric as well within in a short space of time.
“This year we have seen not only a return to growth for billionaire wealth, but also a significant shift in its geographic dimensions,” said Josef Stadler, UBS head of global ultra-high net worth. “Dramatic growth in Asian wealth shows it could overtake the US in just four years.”
In Europe there were 342 billionaires, with the number staying stagnant in what the report called "the home of old money". Europe has the highest proportion of "multi-generational billionaires", indicating a higher prevalence of inherited wealth.
Indeed, the ageing of billionaires indicates $2.4 trillion of wealth will be transferred, either through inheritance or some philanthropy, within the next two decades, the report found.
The report added that the current cycle of rapidly increasing wealth among billionaires will likely end in the next two decades.