Hong Kong/Singapore: The number of millionaires in Asia jumped last year, pushing their combined wealth up 10.5% to $8.4 trillion, but growth is expected to slow in line with a cooling global economy, a survey shows.
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Strong economic expansion, led by China and India -- the world’s two fastest growing major economies -- robust foreign direct investments and growing confidence in the region have swelled the ranks of Asia’s rich, the annual World Wealth Report by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini showed on Thursday.
“In the Asia Pacific, the high net-worth population accelerated from 7.3% in 2005 to 8.6% in 2006 (to 2.6 million),” Victor Tan, Merrill’s Asia Pacific chief equity strategist, told a media briefing in Hong Kong.
Tiny Singapore saw the fastest increase globally in the number of high-net-worth individuals. The number of people with more than $1 million in financial assets excluding their home rose 21.2% to 66,660.
Soaring wealth, high savings and ample potential have made Asia the world’s hottest market for international and private banks seeking to cater to the rich.
Standard Chartered Plc., for example, launched its private banking business in India this month, looking for a slice of the action in Asia’s second-fastest growing economy that is dominated by Merrill Lynch and Citigroup.
Singapore’s pace was closely followed by India, where the number of millionaires rose 20.5% to 100,015, and Indonesia where growth was 16% to 20,000.
“Singapore is a little boat of 4.5 million people that floats very nicely when the global economy is doing well,” Mark Matthews, Merrill Lynch’s chief Asia strategist told a news conference in Singapore.
“As you can see from these numbers, Singapore’s growth has accelerated -- not only economic growth, but also savings.”
Hong Kong’s wealthy grew 12.2% to 86,618, ranking the city as the 10th fastest in the world.
Willie Chan, another Merrill equity strategist, said the city’s relatively slower growth rate was due to a high-base effect as the number of wealthy people had risen sharply in 2005.
China, with an economy growing at 10.5% in 2006, saw a 7.8% increase in wealthy individuals to 345,000.
By comparison, disposable per capita income of urban Chinese was 11,759 yuan in 2006 or about $1,545, according to official data from state news agency Xinhua.
Further details of how Asian countries ranked by wealth will be revealed in an Asia Pacific survey due in October.
The report also showed that wealthy investors had shifted more money into property at the expense of other investments, lured by high returns from commercial real estate investments and real estate investment trusts.
The trend was most dramatic in the Asia Pacific, where 29% of assets from wealthy individuals was held in real estate, up from 16% a year ago, the report showed.
“Looking forward to year-end 2008, high-net-worth individuals are likely to shift their allocation back towards alternative investments after realising profits in their real estate investments,” Tan said.
But rising interest rates globally may sap the strong cash flows that have helped to drive recent growth, and economic growth in Asia and Latin America was expected to ease as global demand slowed, the report said.
The biggest risk that could hurt global economic expansion, and in turn wealth expansion, would be if the Chinese economy unexpectedly slowed down, Matthews said.
But so far there was little likelihood of such a slowdown happening in the near future, he added.
Global assets held by wealthy investors rose 11.4% to $37.2 trillion in 2006, but that is set to slow to a 6.8 percent annual rate between 2006 and 2011 to US$51.6 trillion.
In Asia Pacific, the growth rate is seen slowing to 8.5% per annum.