Asia has overtaken North America for the first time as the region with the most super-wealthy individuals, highlighting how the shift in economic power to a region dominated by high-growth economies is spurring a new class of entrepreneurs who derive much of their wealth from owning family businesses and property.
The Asia-Pacific region is now home to 3.37 million high net worth individuals -- people with $1 million or more to invest -- compared with 3.35 million in North America and 3.17 million in Europe, according to an annual survey by Royal Bank of Canada and consulting firm Capgemini.
That said, the euro zone crisis also took its toll on Asia-Pacific. The weakened state of Europe’s developed economies reduced demand for Asia-Pacific goods, prompting that region’s economic growth to slow tangibly.
Asia's wealthy -- 54 percent of whom are concentrated in Japan, almost 17 percent in China and more than 5 percent in Australia -- saw their total fortunes fall to $10.7 trillion in 2011 from $10.8 trillion in 2010, and lag North America's $11.4 trillion.
While many countries witnessed a decline in their high-net-worth individual, or HNWI, population, India and Hong Kong were the worst hit.
India suffered a slump in its equity-market capitalization and its currency in 2011 as a lack of faith in the political process and the slow pace of domestic reforms disappointed investors. The sharp decline in these asset values helped to reduce the size of the country’s HNWI population by 18 percent.
In Hong Kong, stock-market capitalization also dropped — by 16.7 percent in 2011 after a gain of 17.6 percent in 2010 — as euro zone concerns weighed on the outlook for growth. In the process, the country’s HNWI population shrank by 17.4 percent.
“Asia-Pacific will likely continue to face challenges such as high inflation and global factors such as the weak economy in Europe,” Jean Lassignardie, corporate vice president at Capgemini, said in a statement. “However, the diverse nature of Asia-Pacific exports and economies means the outlook for the region as a whole remains strong.”
A separate survey this month by Wealth-X, a Singapore-based research company, showed that many millionaires got poorer last year, but billionaires did just fine.
The ranks of people with at least $30 million edged up to 187,380 but their total wealth fell 1.8 percent to $25.8 trillion -- still a sum bigger than the combined size of the U.S. and Chinese economies, Wealth-X said in a report.
Hardest hit globally were those in the $250 million to $499 million range, whose numbers dropped 12.8 percent and whose fortunes shrank 10.9 percent, the World Ultra Wealth Report said, using data for the year through July 31.
But the super-rich, those worth more than $1 billion, got even richer as the number of billionaires rose 9.4 percent to 2,160 people and their wealth grew 14 percent to $6.2 trillion.
Bill Gates and Warren Buffett claimed the top two spots for the 12th straight year on the list of wealthiest people in America in 2012, according to Forbes on Wednesday.
Gates, chairman of Microsoft Corporation (Nasdaq: MSFT) has a net worth of $66 billion, while Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s (NYSE: BRK.B) Buffett has a net worth of $46 billion.
Social-media moguls didn’t do so well. Facebook Inc’s (Nasdaq: FB) Mark Zuckerberg saw his net worth plunge $8.1 billion to $9.4 billion. Groupon Inc’s (Nasdaq: GRPN) Eric Lefkofsky and Zynga Inc’s (Nasdaq: ZNGA) Mark Pincus both also saw their net worth decline sharply.