According to a report out by Merrill Lynch, the number of individuals with at least $1 million in investable assets in Asia surpassed the number of Europeans bearing the same distinction. While this may come as a surprise given the lengthy significance of Europe's economies on the world stage, it should come as no surprise to those tracking the massive shift of wealth which has been taking place for the past decade. More importantly, this likely marks the last time European millionaires will be ranked anywhere near Asians in this category.
In addition to boasting 60% of the world's population, Asia is also home to the most powerful emerging middle class in the world. Considering the sheer volume of people residing in the region, nearly 3.9 billion, the likelihood that Asia's millionaires will continue to climb is a near certainty. The 16% growth rate in Asian millionaires is likely the low water mark for the region based on both the demographic and economic dynamics of the region.
Whether or not you consider China's recent announcement to resume its managed float of the Renminbi to be significant in the short-term, the longer term impact is profound. Firstly, a stronger Renminbi will translate directly to a larger savings pool in mainland China. For a population that spends nearly 60% on food alone, even a marginal increase in the value of the Renminbi could increase disposable income dramatically.
Historically an increase in disposable income for Chinese citizens has translated into savings, not spending as the nation's savings rate hovers near 46%. This increase savings pool will manifest itself in the way of increased investment. With economic growth in excess of 10% and a 12.7% compounded annual return on China's main index over the past half decade, the outlook for those invested savings remains strong.
An increase in the dollar denominated value of that increased savings pool generated by a stronger Yuan will also play a major role in driving the number of Asian millionaires higher. Even without a major increase in the aggregate savings of Asian constituents, the increase in the Renminbi will have a profound impact on the value of Asian household wealth. With an estimated $1.3 trillion in investable assets spread across 300,000 high net worth Chinese individuals (those with $1.5 million in investable assets) a 10% increase in Renminbi will increase this total alone by $130 billion. A 10% increase in the Renmibi's would increase the number of millionaires in China by nearly 15%. This does not even take into consideration those whose wealth has grown as a result of increased access to bonus pools, higher incomes, or asset appreciation.
The Renmnibi's appreciation will also impact those regional economies with currencies pegged to the Chinese currency, and it is further augmented by the emerging financial elite of India, a formidable force in their own respect.
While the Renminbi's positive impact on the number of millionaires in China alone fails to take into consideration the growing number of millionaires in the other emerging economies of Asia, it also overlooks the downside risks faced by those exposed to what could be a dramatic fall in property prices. China's efforts to stimulate its economy has resulted in a dramatic expansion of its infrastructure network but has also fueled a dangerous property bubble. This dynamic cannot be overstated as many of the emergent middle class of China have high relative exposure to property in their asset mix. Furthermore, foreign investment flows into China from Asia have found their way into the same overheated property market.
Meanwhile, the total of European millionaires is unlikely to rise at the pace of its Asian neighbors while the likelihood that the total could fall grows larger by the day. The precipitous decline of the Euro has cleaved significant value from European savings accounts while the decline in European bond prices has only added fuel to the fire. A continued deterioration of the credit quality of European bank assets will put further pressure on both the Euro and the wealth totals of wealthy Europeans. With questions about the PIGS' sovereign ratings giving way to concerns about Europe's larger economies, the bleeding continues. Combine this with an upcoming LIBOR day of reckoning, and Europe's millionaire tally is settling in the rearview of the Asian continent.
The question looming large in response to Asia's overtaking Europe's total of millionaires is not whether this is temporary, but rather how long until they pass the North American total.