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Billionaires: Asia outpacing U.S., total wealth $6 trillion

Staff Writer |
Billionaire wealth returned to growth in 2016 after falling the year before.

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For the first time, Asian billionaires outnumbered their U.S. counterparts, but the U.S. still retains the greatest concentration of wealth.

If the current trend continues, the total wealth of Asian billionaires will overtake that of their counterparts in the US in four years.

These findings emerge as UBS Group AG and PwC today released their joint annual billionaires insight report, New wealth creators gain momentum.

Now in its third year, the report draws upon UBS and PwC’s extensive networks, and aims to better understand the billionaire population globally.

The report highlights subtle trends emerging, including the increasingly important role of peer networks to orchestrate new deals and access significant funding outside of capital markets. Moreover, elite philanthropic and impact investing networks are emerging.

It also analyses the wider societal impact of billionaires in terms of improving living standards, job creation and providing access to cultural capital.

The 1,542 billionaires analysed own or partly own companies that employ at least 27.7 million people worldwide – roughly the same as the UK’s working population. The new entrants on the list in 2016 employ at least 2.8 million people.

Billionaires are creating alternative legacies through their cultural pursuits. They are becoming more engaged in the arts and, increasingly, investing in sports clubs.

Private museums are growing in number and public museums are receiving more funding, increasing the accessibility of art to the public.

Billionaires are also helping sports clubs to become more sustainable, helping them to deliver associated benefits to the communities they are part of.

Total billionaire wealth rose by 17 percent from $5.1 trillion to $6 trillion in 2016, led by a surge in Asia’s emerging billionaire class and growth in the materials, industrials, financial and technology sectors.

On average, a new billionaire was created in Asia every two days, with the total number of Asian billionaires rising by almost a quarter to 637, compared to 563 in the U.S.

The combined wealth of Asian billionaires grew by almost a third from $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion, but still lags behind the U.S., which maintains the largest concentration of billionaire wealth.

In 2016, US billionaires saw their wealth increase from $2.4 trillion to $2.8 trillion, driven by technological innovation, financial services and materials.

The report shows that if the current trend continues, the total wealth of Asian billionaires will overtake that of their counterparts in the US in four years.

The story for Europe in 2016 was largely the preservation of wealth. There were 342 billionaires in Europe by the end of the year, but growth remained static.

Overall wealth grew modestly by 5 percent to just over $1.3 trillion, with 24 new billionaires and 21 dropping off, a third of them due to death.

This corresponds with previous findings that Europe has the highest number of multi-generational billionaires.

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