World Economy

Asian Entrepreneur Billionaires Outnumber Counterparts in US

Billionaires usually spend on extravagant super cars and yachts.
Billionaires usually spend on extravagant super cars and yachts.

The combined wealth of the world’s billionaires rose by 17% to $6 trillion in 2016, according to a United Bank of Switzerland and PricewaterhouseCoopers ‘s Billionaires Insights report. The surge in wealth was driven by self-made entrepreneurs and rapid wealth creation in Asia, the report said.

“What we are seeing is the acceleration of entrepreneurs in the billionaire cohort,” said Josef Stadler, head of global ultra high net worth at UBS. While only 45% of billionaires were self-made in 1995, the percentage of entrepreneur billionaires has now risen to 80%, Business Insider reported

There are now 1,542 dollar billionaires across the world, after 145 multi-millionaires saw their wealth tick over into nine-zero fortunes last year, according to the report.

For the first time, Asian billionaires outnumber those in the US: there are 637 billionaires in Asia compared to 563 in the US. One new billionaire was created in Asia every two days in 2016. Although the average wealth of US billionaires is still greater, their Asian counterparts are expected to overtake them within 3-4 years.

In the US, almost all wealth is now “self-made,” said John Mathews, head of private wealth management and ultra high net worth at UBS Americas. “The entrepreneur is alive and well,” Matthews said, and the US is still “the land of innovation”.

But tech companies and products that begin their lives in the US are increasingly moving to Asia, which is “the land of implementation and integration into society”. It is this widespread adoption in Asia that is creating wealth at a much more accelerated pace, he said.

Prominent Asian billionaires include real estate mogul Wang Jianlin, with a net worth of $29.7 billion and one of China’s richest men, and Indian industrial magnate Mukesh Ambani, who has a net worth of $41.4 billion.

New additions to the billionaire list in 2016 included Zhou Qunfei, founder of Lens Technology, who is the world’s richest self-made woman and worth an estimated $10.2 billion. Cheng Wei also joined the list after cofounding Uber’s biggest competitor in China, Didi Chuxing.

  Tech-Driven Growth

Last year’s surge in wealth creation was driven by four sectors: materials, industrials, financial and technology. While growth in the materials industry is largely cyclical, James Purcell, head of hedge funds at UBS, said that the boost in the tech industry is structural and likely to generate future and sustainable growth.

The tech industry creates the youngest billionaires—although most of the wealth creation was still driven by those over the age of 50. “It takes time to create this type of wealth,” said Marcel Widrig, a partner at PwC. “It’s not an overnight success.”

Stadler said there is a growing cohort of next-generation “serial entrepreneurs.” The report also found:

- The total wealth of billionaires rose from $5.1 trillion to $6 trillion, double the rate of the MSCI World Index.

- Billionaires 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 billionaires created in 2016 employ at least 2.8 million people.

UBS said the biggest problem facing the current crop of billionaires is the issue of succession. Many younger generations don’t necessarily want to inherit the family business but to instead invest in other sectors as well as in social projects.

  Rich Should Pay More Tax

The International Monetary Fund recently said western governments should force the top 1% of earners to pay more tax to try to reduce dangerous levels of inequality.

Stadler said media coverage of inequality and the super-rich suggested there would be an “inflection point”, but he said “the perception that billionaires make money for themselves at the expense of the wider population” was incorrect.

He added that 98% of billionaires’ wealth found its way back into wider society and said the world’s super-rich employed 27.7 million people–not far behind the number of people in the UK workforce.

Billionaires’ fortunes increased by 17% on average last year due to the strong performance of their companies and investments, particularly in technology and commodities. The billionaires’ average return was double that achieved by the world’s stock markets and far more than the average interest rates of just 0.35% offered by UK instant-access high street bank accounts.

Stadler said that the super-rich’s concerns over public perceptions that they were getting wealthier at the expense of the wider population had led them to make greater philanthropic gifts and spend their money on public art galleries and sports teams.

“You could say it is about ego and wanting to show off and sit in the front row,” he said. “But it is also about giving back.”

  Art Galleries

The report said billionaires now accounted for 72 of the world’s 200 top art collectors, up from 28 in 1995. “While not a fresh phenomenon, private museums are growing in number, especially in Asia,” the annual UBS report said. “Motivated by their passion for art, and often encouraged by favorable tax treatment, art collectors are setting up private museums all around the world to share their collections with the public.”

Recent gallery openings include The Broad in Los Angeles, funded by Eli Broad–the world’s 65th richest person with a $7.4 billion fortune. Japanese billionaire Soichiro Fukutake is building a series of galleries to house his art collection on islands in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea.

“The billionaire population is concerned about inequality and that may be why we are seeing this acceleration of publicly displaying art collections or partnering with public institutions so more of the public can enjoy what they have,” said John Matthews, UBS head of private wealth management.


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