Despite the turbulent global economic and geopolitical environment in 2019, the global billionaire population and their combined wealth both increased strongly, reversing the previous year’s decline, according to a Wealth-X report released Tuesday.
The number of billionaires known to exist around the globe reached 2,825 last year, an 8.5% or 221 increase from 2018. Their combined wealth rose 10.3% year-over-year to a total of US$9.4 trillion, according to Billionaire Census 2020 , a report by Wealth-X.
In 2018, the billionaire population decreased 5.4% year-over-year, and their total wealth shrank 7%, according to Wealth-X, a global wealth information and insight provider.
The strong growth last year, despite a loss of momentum in the global economy and a still turbulent geopolitical environment—including Brexit and the U.S.-China trade war—was primarily attributable to a bullish performance in the financial markets, Wealth-X said.
In North America, the S&P 500 closed 2019 up 29%, the tech-heavy NASDAQ Composite Index increased 36%, and Canada’s TSX Composite Index was 19% higher. As a result, North America’s billionaire population increased 11.2% to 834 individuals, and their collective net worth rose 13.8% to US$3.5 trillion, accounting for 37% of the global total.
In Asia, equity-market gains lagged those in the U.S. but were still robust. The Shanghai Composite Index ended 2019 up 22%, and Japan’s Nikkei Index was 18% higher. The region’s billionaire population increased 12% to 758, while their cumulative wealth expanded 11% to $2.4 trillion.
The U.S. and China remained the top two countries with the most billionaires. The U.S. accounted for 788 billionaires in 2019, while China had 342. The two countries also each accounted for three of the top 15 cities with the largest number of billionaires.
New York had 113 individuals with more than US$1 billion in net worth, followed by Hong Kong with 96 and San Francisco with 77. Beijing ranked sixth with 57 billionaires, according to the report.
The report also looked at how the billionaires fared so far in 2020, given the dramatic Covid-19 fallout and its profound impacts on the global economy and stock markets. A preliminary analysis showed that over half of the primary industry groups recorded a decline in both their billionaire population and cumulative wealth over the first five months this year, Wealth-X said.
But there is scope for winners and losers, as in all downturns. The number of billionaires and their cumulative wealth whose industry focuses are in insurance, technology, business services and healthcare increased from the 2019 level, while industries such as automobiles, shipping and packaging, media, textiles, apparel and luxury goods, as well as aerospace and defense, saw the billionaire population and their combined wealth decline so far this year.