Would you be surprised to know that the world’s billionaire population had grown? The new edition of the Wealth-X Billionaire Census reveals not only has it grown, but from 2016's dip in this overall wealth, 2017 was a banner year due to a lack of market volatility, a vibrant technology sector, and dynamic growth in Asia making 2017 the best year for billionaires yet.
In 2017 the demographic makeup of the global billionaire class underwent a seismic shift. For the first time billionaires in Asia (784) overtook the number of those in North America (727). While a little over half of wealth stayed in the $1 - $2 billion tier, the number of people at the $50bn+ tier doubled from five to 10 people. Not only are the distributions of wealth shifting, but due to rapid growth in Asia and other emerging markets, women rose to 18% of this ultra-wealthy class in 2017.
Despite a demographic shake-up, analysts noted that 2017 proved worldwide billionaire wealth is more closely linked to the market forces than social/geopolitical turmoil, so the social unrest that many people felt over the course of the year had a surprising lack of market impact, and therefore overall wealth made gains. That lack of volatility transformed into increased investing in public holdings.
As expected with an influx of new members joining the billionaire club, real estate and luxury asset holdings stayed relatively steady. People were interested in taking advantage of the luxuries available to them - 2017 saw a robust demand for art, fine wine, and jewelry not only as investments, but as expressions of a lifestyle. Driven by Asian and Middle Eastern interest primarily, the art world experience a new bloom of patronage as art became a focus for asset acquisition and involvement, not only in curating private art collections, but in supporting the growth of privately-funded museums, art fairs, and auctions worldwide. These investments extended into philanthropic interests as well. Not only through supporting the arts, but also education and health care.
In addition to art being a keen interest, nearly 20% of billionaires listed real estate as a top passion or hobby. That's perhaps not unsurprising, as the population of this wealth class skews more female, more global, more self-made and more technology sector-driven, it stands to reason that these newest members of this exclusive class want not only the expressions of their wealth, but the homes to put their assets on display in the most beautiful parts of the world. As billionaire net worth rose by an annual $1.3 trillion, expect to see real estate and luxury assets as a continued point of interest going forward.
As we look to 2018, analysts will be paying attention to see what impact the tax bill passed in the US in late 2017 will have on the ultra-wealthy, as they were primary beneficiaries. Will real estate and luxury assets experience a boom? Will philanthropic giving surge? Globally, if markets maintain their equilibrium, 2018 could be the year India breaks into the top 3 billionaire-rich countries. We'll just have to see how the year plays out, but one thing we know: 2017 was an excellent year to be part of this elite club.