The 5.2% increase in wealth among the world’s richest individuals was driven largely by the Asia-Pacific area, which is expected to overtake western Europe as the second wealthiest region behind North America next year.
The annual snapshot measures private wealth by cash, deposits and assets such as shares and bonds, but excludes property.
China recorded the biggest jump in millionaire households of all countries in the BCG annual wealth report, up 27% to 2.07m. Sustained economic growth has created a new class of wealthy individuals in the world’s second largest economy, including Jack Ma, founder of e-commerce business Alibaba, and the country’s richest man, the property tycoon Wang Jianlin.
In a reflection of the global shift in economic power, the Asia-Pacific region – excluding Japan – experienced the strongest rate of growth in private wealth, although it remained behind North America and western Europe in total wealth.
Asia-Pacific was the only region to post double-digit growth, up 13% at $37tn, with China “the principal growth motor”, BCG said, despite slowing economic growth in the region and increasing market volatility.
“China and India have strong GDP growth and that has fuelled a lot of wealth creation,” said Anna Zakrzewski, one of the report’s authors.
Despite the rise in global wealth in 2015, the growth rate slowed in all regions apart from Japan, where a government stimulus drive boosted asset values.
BCG said the growth in global private wealth hit a “speed bump” in 2015, slowing to 5.2% from 7.5% in 2014 as weaker financial markets and slowing growth weighed on most regions. However, global financial wealth is expected to continue to rise over the next few years, hitting $224tn in 2020.
Paul Nowak, the TUC’s deputy general secretary, said: “For all the moral angst being expressed by business leaders and politicians about growing wealth inequality, very little is being done to change the status quo.
“Unless companies here and across the globe reign in executive salaries, pay their fair share of taxes and invest in decent jobs the yawning gap between the haves and have-nots will continue to grow.”
The number of millionaire households around the world grew by 6% last year to 18.5m. By 2020, millionaire households are expected to account for a 52% share of global wealth, up from 47% in 2015. The UK had 961,000 millionaire households in 2015, up 12.4%, putting it in fourth place behind the US, China and Japan.
Nowak said: “It says much about current Britain, that at a time when millions are struggling to pay their rent or get a mortgage, others are paying for swimming pools and cinemas to be constructed in the basements of their homes in Chelsea.”
At 2%, wealth growth in North America was slowest of any region in 2015, totalling $60tn. BCG said the slowing growth rate was largely explained by falling equity prices, with the Dow Jones and the S&P 500 indices closing the year with negative returns for the first time since 2008.
The Asia-Pacific region is expected to overtake North America in the global wealth rankings soon after 2020 according to BCG, although the US will remain the world’s richest country.
In western Europe, private wealth grew by 4.3% in 2015 to $40.8tn. It was a slower rate of growth than 2014, when riches increased by 6.1%. BCG said uncertainty about the future of the European Union and lower commodity prices weighed on equity and bond markets.
The consultancy group said that private wealth growth could be further weakened should the UK vote to leave the EU on 23 June.
“Regional wealth [in western Europe] growth is expected to continue at rates similar to those in recent years, although this expansion could be held back by the low interest-rate environment and the potential exit of Great Britain from the European Union,” BCG said in the report.
“Further pressure could come from economic slowdowns in countries outside the region – such as China – in which western European nations have high investment stakes.”
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