Asia-Pacific has more billionaires than any other region, as pandemic boosts wealth

Billionaire Elon Musk celebrates the success of the SpaceX launch at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: NASA. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

NEW YORK, Oct 8, 2020, CNBC. There are now 2,189 billionaires globally with a combined wealth of $10.2 trillion, as the pandemic-induced stock market rally catapulted the net worth of the world’s uber wealthy to a new high, CNBC reported.

As of July 2020, Asia-Pacific accounted for the highest number of ultra-high net worth individuals, with 831 (38%) of the super rich residing in the region, where billionaire wealth now totals $3.3 trillion, according to Swiss bank UBS’ new Billionaires Insights Report 2020. That compares to 762 (35%) across the Americas and 596 (27%) in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA).

The findings, based on interviews and data from 2,000 billionaires across 43 markets, saw Asia-Pacific retain its global position as “the engine of wealth growth,” UBS Global Wealth Management’s Anurag Mahesh said at the report’s launch Wednesday.

Mainland China emerged as the region’s top market for wealth creation, with 415 billionaires, followed by India (114), Hong King (65) Taiwan (40) and Australia (39). The U.S. is home to 636 billionaires, the study found.

Wealth generators

Much of the billionaire wealth growth seen this year was closely correlated to the market recovery staged since April’s dramatic sell-off, since the assets of the ultra wealthy are typically tied up in the public companies they run or invest in.

However, from 2019 to the peak of the downturn in April 2020, Asian billionaire wealth emerged relatively unscathed, dropping 2.1% compared to 10.1% in EMEA and 7.4% in the Americas.

Manesh, Asia-Pacific co-head of UBS’s Global Family Office, said they could be partly related to the region’s dominance in two key industries — technology and health care — which have surged in the wake of the pandemic.

Asia-Pacific is home to the world’s highest share of tech and health-care billionaires, accounting for 181 (8%) of the total billionaire population, compared to 153 (7%) in the Americas and 88 (4%) in EMEA. Meanwhile, a growing emphasis on disruption and innovation in both sectors have helped them forge ahead against their more traditional peers, the report found.

“It is interesting but not surprising that wealth in the tech and healthcare sectors surged ahead at a faster rate than other sectors. In the last decade, the wealth of billionaires in the tech sector grew 5.7 times while the wealth of billionaires in the financial services sector grew 2.3 times,” said Anuj Kagalwala, partner and asset and wealth management leader at PwC Singapore, a co-author of the study.

Donations to the pandemic

The report comes as economists argue that a so-called K-shaped recovery could be the most likely outcome from the coronavirus, referring to different sectors of the economy recovering at different rates. In this case, the finances of the wealthiest quickly rebound while those of the poorest stagnate or even worsen.

The report found 209 billionaires contributed a total of $7.2 billion to the pandemic from March to June 2020.

Of them, 175 (76%) were financial donors, meaning they donated money to relief efforts, while 24 (19%) were makers who repurposed their manufacturing lines to produce equipment, for example. Ten of them (5%) were impact entrepreneurs, who contributed to long-term strategies such as finding a vaccine.

UBS’s Mahesh said the research suggests it is the “greatest upsurge” in giving among billionaires within that frame of time.

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