The world’s high net worth individuals (HNWIs) expanded in population and wealth in 2010 surpassing 2007 pre-crisis levels in nearly every region, according to the 15th annual World Wealth Report, released by Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management and Capgemini. Global HNWI population and wealth growth reached more stable levels in 2010, with the population of HNWIs increasing 8.3 percent to 10.9 million and HNWI financial wealth growing 9.7 percent to reach US$42.7 trillion (compared with 17.1 percent and 18.9 percent respectively in 2009). The global population of Ultra-HNWIs grew by 10.2 percent in 2010 and its wealth by 11.5 percent.
“The past few years have seen great fluctuations in HNWI wealth and population,” says John Thiel, Head of U.S. Wealth Management and the Private Banking & Investment Group, Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management. “In 2010, we saw growth rates slow down from the higher double-digit levels of 2009 when many markets were quickly returning from significant crisis-related losses. ”The global HNWI population remained highly concentrated in the U.S., Japan and Germany, which together accounted for 53.0 percent of the world's HNWIs. The U.S. is still home to the single largest HNW segment in the world, with its 3.1 million HNWIs accounting for 28.6 percent of the global HNWI population.
“While over half of the global HNWI population still resides in the top three countries, the concentration of HNWIs is fragmenting very gradually over time,” says Jean Lassignardie, Global Head of Sales and Marketing, Capgemini Global Financial Services. “The concentration of HNWIs among these areas will continue to erode if the HNWI populations of emerging and developing markets continue to grow faster than those of developed markets.”
Asia-Pacific Surpasses Europe
Asia-Pacific posted the strongest regional rate of HNWI population growth in 2010, among the top three markets. While HNWI wealth had already overtaken Europe in 2009, Asia-Pacific has now surpassed Europe in terms of HNWI population, expanding 9.7 percent to 3.3 million, while Europe grew 6.3 percent to 3.1 million. Asia-Pacific HNWIs’ wealth gained 12.1 percent to US$10.8 trillion, exceeding Europe’s HNWI wealth of US$10.2 trillion, where the wealth increase was 7.2 percent in 2010. Asia-Pacific is now the second-largest region for both HNWI wealth and population, second only to North America.
Also of note in the Asia-Pacific region, India’s HNWI population became the world's 12th largest in 2010, entering the top 12 for the first time.
In Search for Better Returns in 2010
In an environment of relatively stable but uneven recovery, equities and commodities markets, as well as real-estate (specifically in Asia-Pacific), performed solidly throughout 2010.
By the end of 2010, HNWIs held 33 percent of all their investments in equities, up from 29 percent a year earlier. Allocations to cash/deposits dropped to 14 percent in 2010 from 17 percent in 2009, and the share held in fixed-income investments dipped to 29 percent from 31 percent. Among alternative investments, many HNWIs favored commodities. Commodity investments accounted for 22 percent of all alternative investments in 2010, up from 16 percent in 2009.
HNWIs in Asia-Pacific, excluding Japan, also continued to pursue returns in real estate, which accounted for 31 percent of their aggregate portfolio at the end of 2010, up from 28 percent a year earlier and far above the 19 percent global average.
In addition, investments in emerging markets provided opportunities for HNWIs in search of profit. In the first 11 months, investors poured record amounts into emerging market stock and bond funds before selling to capture profits as the year ended and after the value of many emerging market investments topped pre-crisis highs.
“Global capital markets and major asset classes performed well over the year on the back of rising investor risk appetite,” says Thiel. “The shift toward equities in 2010 by HNWI investors reflected the search for returns and the desire to recoup more crisis-related losses. We also saw HNWIs continue to favor specific asset classes, such as equities and commodities, based on market opportunity or long-standing preferences.”
Looking forward, HNWIs are expected to increase their equity and commodities allocations even more in 2012 while reducing their allocations to real estate and cash/deposits. Regional preferences are less certain as the extent of emerging market opportunities will depend on whether those markets can push to new highs while economies are being weaned of government stimulus.
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