The world’s billionaires saw their wealth shrink by an average of £215m each last year, as economic headwinds made themselves felt.
A report published on Thursday by UBS and PricewaterhouseCoopers has found that falling commodity prices helped put billionaires under pressure at a time of stalling growth in technology and finance, the motors of wealth creation.
The study’s authors found that Asia is creating a new billionaire every three days, but the US billionaire population only grew by five in 2015. Europe’s wealthiest individuals were proving the most resilient, the report said.
In 2015, the global billionaire population effectively increased by 50 to 1,397, according to the study, but the total wealth of these individuals fell by $300bn (£246bn) from $5.4tn to $5.1tn, an average loss of £215m per person.
The study said 210 people became members of the billionaires’ club in 2015, more than half of whom were in Asia, where young entrepreneurs are rapidly becoming wealthy in sectors such as real estate, technology and retail.
At the same time, 160 people lost their billionaire status, including those who died. One-third of the billionaires covered by the study are aged over 70.
The authors said: “Great wealth creation lost some of its momentum in 2015 … It is too early to tell if the past 30 years’ extraordinary period of wealth creation is coming to an end, but it’s clearly slowing.”
A total of 113 Asian entrepreneurs attained billionaire status during the year, accounting for 54% of the global total in 2015.
The US is still home to the world’s largest collection of billionaires, but while 41 people there broke through the billion dollar ceiling in 2015, 36 dropped off the list. Total US billionaire wealth fell by 6% from $2.6tn to $2.4tn. “So the US is still creating a few new billionaires, but its billionaire wealth is flagging,” the report said.
Europe was “leading the world” in wealth preservation, the authors said, with multigenerational billionaires coming out of 2015 far better than their peers in other markets. “While it may not be the best at creating great wealth, Europe has proved the best at keeping it,” the report said.
The authors predicted that the biggest handover of wealth to the next generation was imminent. Researchers forecast that 460 billionaires will pass $2.1tn, the same as India’s GDP in 2015, on to the next generation over the coming 20 years.
The report does not name any billionaires, but according to Forbes, the Microsoft founder Bill Gates is the world’s richest man with a net worth of $82bn, followed by the Zara founder Amancio Ortega on $77bn. The Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg is in fifth place with $55bn.
For the billionaires who struggled last year, the study said it expected the performance of the financial markets and economic growth “to create a favourable environment for billionaire wealth creation in 2016 and 2017”.
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