For the first time since the global financial crisis, the world’s billionaire population declined in 2016, falling by 3.1% to 2,397 individuals, according to a new report by Wealth-X, a global wealth information and insight business.
Billionaires’ combined wealth also receded, dropping by 3.7% to $7.4 trillion. The report noted, however, that the number of billionaires and total wealth were still higher than their 2014 levels.
Following a record-high number of billionaires and combined assets in 2015 — 2,473 individuals with $7.7 trillion in assets — last year’s decline occurred against a backdrop of heightened geopolitical instability and still subdued trends in the global commodity, financial and consumer markets, according to the report.
The uncertain outlook for billionaire wealth creation will continue in 2017 amid dramatic shifts in the geopolitical environment, the report said.
In June, Wealth-X reported an increase in the world’s population of ultra-wealthy people (those with $30 million or more in assets).
The new report pyramids the billionaire population on six layers. The base comprises 1,226 individuals with assets between $1 billion and $2 billion and combined wealth of $1.6 trillion. Five individuals sit at the top of the pyramid, each with $50 billion or more in assets, and a total of $316 billion.
The Asia/Pacific region recorded the biggest drop in its billionaire population and total wealth in 2016, down 6.8% and 6.3%.
Europe, the Middle East and Africa remained the region with the largest number of billionaires, but also experienced declines on an annual basis, 4.5% in population and 6.8% in total wealth.
Only the Americas recorded an increase in billionaire population and wealth, up 2% and 0.8%.
The U.S. strengthened its position at the top of the 30 largest billionaire countries, up 6% to 620, and was the only one of the nine largest ones to report a rise in either its billionaire population or wealth in 2016. Second-place China’s billionaire population fell by 4.2% to 249.
Buoyed by a stronger dollar and a robust tech sector, the total net worth of American billionaires rose by 4.6% to $2.6 trillion, equivalent to the combined billionaire wealth of Europe and the Middle East, according to the report.
The U.S. accounted for the largest share of the world’s leading billionaire cities, with six of the top 30, followed by China’s four.
New York retained its top spot in the city ranking. The research showed that the city is home to more billionaires — 102 — than almost every country in the world, with the exception of China and Germany. In 2016, New York’s billionaire population increased by five individuals.
San Francisco rose to fifth place in the rankings after adding 10 billionaires in 2016, more than any individual country other than the U.S. The report said this was an indication of the technology sector as a driving force in wealth creation.
The average net worth of tech billionaires totaled $5.2 billion in 2016, compared with average global billionaire wealth of $3.1 billion. Around half of the 115 tech billionaires are younger than 50, against a 14% share for all billionaires.
In terms of billionaire representation and total wealth, however, the report said the technology sector still lags well behind the finance, banking and investment industries, which had four times as many billionaires, with a total net worth more than twice as large.
The report noted that although the global billionaire population’s total wealth decreased in 2016, the net reduction disguised some fairly extreme swings in the level of wealth at an individual level, highlighting the volatile nature of extreme wealth creation and the challenges of wealth preservation.
Only about a fifth of billionaires in 2016 maintained a stable level of personal wealth, whereas nearly two-fifths experienced a loss of more than 5%. Of these, about half, or 282 individuals, suffered a slump in their net worth of more than 20%.
At the same time, however, 243 billionaires increased their net worth by more than 20% during the course of the year.
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