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Global wealth 27% higher than a decade ago, led by further US gains

Credit Suisse Research Institute publishes the Global Wealth Report 2017

Ten years from the onset of the global financial crisis, global wealth has grown by 27%, according to Credit Suisse Research Institute’s 2017 Global Wealth Report. In the 12 months to mid-2017, global wealth grew at a faster pace than in recent years, with mean wealth per adult reaching a new record high. 

According to the eighth edition of the Global Wealth Report, in the year to mid-2017, total global wealth rose at a rate of 6.4%, the fastest pace since 2012 and reached USD 280 trillion, a gain of USD 16.7 trillion. This reflected widespread gains in equity markets matched by similar rises in non-financial assets, which moved above the pre-crisis year 2007’s level for the first time this year. Wealth growth also outpaced population growth, so that global mean wealth per adult grew by 4.9% and reached a new record high of USD 56,540 per adult. 

Urs Rohner, Chairman of the Credit Suisse Research Institute and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Credit Suisse Group, commented: “A decade since the start of the global financial crisis, we see a significant increase in wealth across all regions of the world. In our home market, Switzerland, wealth per adult has increased by more than 40% during this period and continues to lead the global rankings. In this year’s edition of the Credit Suisse Research Institute’s annual Global Wealth Report, we explore the wealth prospects of the Millennial generation, which emerges from a more challenging period than its predecessors.”

Key findings 

  • This year’s report focuses in on Millennials and their wealth accumulation prospects. Overall the data point to a “Millennial disadvantage”, comprising among others tighter mortgage rules, growing house prices, increased income inequality and lower income mobility, which holds back wealth accumulation by young workers and savers in many countries. However, bright spots remain, with a recent upsurge in the number of Forbes billionaires below the age of 30 and a more positive picture in China and other emerging markets.
  • The US continued its unbroken spell of gains since the financial crisis, bolstered by strong market conditions. It added USD 8.5 trillion to the stock of global wealth, which is half of the wealth generated globally over the 12 months to mid-2017.
  • Stability in Europe enabled wealth growth of 6.4% across the continent, in line with global wealth growth. Four Eurozone countries (Germany, France, Italy, Spain) made it to the top ten countries with the biggest gains in absolute terms. The UK market recovered after the losses caused by the Brexit vote last year but the outlook remains uncertain.
  • Switzerland once again ranked as the global leader in terms of both average and median wealth per adult in 2017.
  • Median wealth has risen in most regions, while remaining below the peak level of 2007. Only China has reached a new median wealth high. The top ten ranking by median wealth corresponds closely to the ranking by mean wealth, although lower-than-average inequality promotes Italy and Japan to a place among the top ten.
  • In the mid-term, emerging economies are expected to generate wealth at a more dynamic pace than their developed peers.
  • Among the wealth components, only financial assets are noticeably up since 2007; non-financial assets moved above the 2007 level for the first time this year and are now 2% higher.
  • This century, debt grew at a fast pace (9%) until the financial crises, but has been flat since then, never gaining the peak value achieved in 2007. Debt per adult is currently 3% below the level of 2007.


Regional highlights:

US led the gains in global wealth – but has it reached its peak?

Economic activity and US financial markets continued to perform well in the past year, driving a ninth successive year of rising wealth.

The US managed to add to the stock of global wealth USD 8.5 trillion, half of the total world’s gain of the last 12 months, driven primarily by stronger financial assets.

Comparing wealth gains across countries, the US was restored to its usual first place, with a gain five times the rise recorded by China (USD 1.7 trillion) in second place.

Today the country’s wealth is estimated at around USD 93.6 trillion, equivalent to 33% of total global wealth. The US contributes the highest number of members of the top 1% global wealth group, and currently accounts for 43% of the world’s millionaires. Is this growth pace sustainable?

"So far, the Trump Presidency has seen businesses flourish and employment grow, though the ongoing supportive role played by the Federal Reserve has undoubtedly played a part here as well, and wealth inequality remains a prominent issue," commented Michael O’Sullivan, CIO for International Wealth Management at Credit Suisse. "Looking ahead, however, high market valuations and property prices may curb the pace of growth in future years." 

Europe - Stable growth one year after Brexit vote. UK outlook remains uncertain 

Europe achieved the second highest absolute wealth gain among regions (USD 4.8 trillion) and recorded a growth rate matching the global figure of 6.4%.

The UK had a tumultuous year after the vote to leave the EU, nonetheless wealth per adult rose 2% in pounds sterling, although it fell 1% in US dollars. The outlook is uncertain: owing to the impact of Brexit in the financial markets together with the expected depreciation of the British pound, the UK is projected to reduce its stock of wealth by 0.9% in the next five years, when expressed in US dollars. This is mostly explained by a projected depreciation in the pound of 4% by 2022.

Comparing wealth gains across countries, Eurozone’s strength is reflected by the wealth growth levels of Germany, France, Italy, and Spain which all made it to the top ten countries posting the biggest gains. Together they accounted for USD 3.1 trillion, or almost 20% of the total wealth gain worldwide. Converted into percentage terms, Poland tops the list with the biggest household wealth gain of 18%. This was primarily driven by rising equity prices.

Switzerland still tops the ranking of the average wealth per adult. Since the turn of the century, wealth per adult in Switzerland has risen by 130% to USD 537,600, largely associated with the appreciation of the Swiss franc against the US dollar between 2001 and 2013. The top ten in the wealth-per-adult league in 2017 also include five other European countries: Norway, Denmark, Belgium, the UK and France.

The Eurozone’s total wealth of USD 53 trillion in 2017 is comparable to the total wealth of the US at the end of the 1990s.

Key themes addressed in the Global Wealth Report include:

Millennials – the unlucky generation

The difficult start and adverse market conditions experienced by Millennials in their early adult years will most likely limit their wealth acquiring prospects. This generation was not only hit by capital losses from the global financial crisis, but faced first-hand the subsequent unemployment, increased income inequality as well as higher property prices, tighter mortgage rules, and in some countries, a considerable rise in student debt. They are also set to experience less access to pensions than their predecessors.

The wealth impacts of the global financial crisis and other issues facing the Millennials are shown, for example, by the fact that, according to the latest data for the US, the average wealth of those aged 30-39 (USD 72,400) in 2017 was 46% below wealth at the same age of those who were 40-49 (USD 134,800) in 2017.

This same US data set hints that this inauspicious start has made Millennials more cautious about debt than their forerunners. Their debt to income ratio started out higher than their earlier cohorts, before declining as they apparently became more cautious following the crisis.

Some Millennials have prospered in spite of the difficulties faced, as reflected in the more positive picture seen of China’s Millennials alongside a range of other emerging markets. Although the numbers are still very small, there has also been a recent upsurge, in absolute terms, in the number of young billionaires.

The overall global outlook for Millennials, however, is that not only will they experience greater challenges in building their wealth in the future but will also continue to face greater wealth inequality than previous generations. 

The global wealth pyramid 

Typically, most attention is given to the two top tiers of the global wealth pyramid covering less than 10% of the global population who collectively own 86% of global wealth. The Credit Suisse Research Institute believes the lower tiers of the pyramid deserve more attention than they usually get. They represent 4.5 billion of adults - which translates to over 90% of the adult population – with unquestionable political power, as proved by last year’s and recent political developments. Also, their combined wealth of USD 40 trillion signifies considerable economic opportunities.

In the mid-range part of the pyramid, India and Africa are underrepresented, while China’s share is disproportionately high, having risen rapidly this millennium from 12.6% in 2000 to 35% today.

The base tier of the pyramid, despite remaining the largest, shrank by 3% compared to last year. It is now estimated to be occupied by 70% of the global population. The base tier’s share in global wealth rose slightly in the past year, reaching 2.7% as opposed to 2.4% in 2016. 

Trends in the number of millionaires

Since 2000, the number of millionaires globally has increased by 170%, while the number of ultra-high net worth individuals (UHNWI) has risen five-fold, making them by far the fastest-growing group of wealth holders.

The composition of the millionaire segment is changing fast. In 2000 as many as 97% of millionaires were heavily concentrated in high income economies. Since then, 22.9 million "new millionaires" have been added to the total, of whom 2.7 million – 12% of the total additions – originated from emerging economies.

The transformation is even more remarkable in the UHNWI segment. Emerging economies accounted for 6% of the segment in 2000, but have claimed 22% of the growth in UHNWIs (24,500 adults) since then. China alone added an estimated 17,700 adults – 15% of the new UHNWIs in the world.

By 2022 the number of UHNWIs will likely increase by 45,000 to reach 193,000 individuals. 

Wealth outlook for the next five years 

According to the report, global wealth should continue to grow at a similar pace to the last half a decade (3.9% expected and 3.8% recorded over last five years), albeit at a slower rate than the previously estimated 5.4%. Based on this updated forecast, global wealth is anticipated to reach USD 341 trillion by 2022.

Emerging economies are expected to generate wealth at a faster pace than their developed peers and are likely to achieve a 22% share in global wealth at the end of the five-year period. However, the pace of emerging economies’ wealth generation is slower than previously estimated. Unsurprisingly, the strongest contribution is expected from China and is estimated at around USD 10 trillion, an increase of 33%.

The outlook for the millionaire segment is more optimistic than for the base tier of the wealth pyramid. The former is expected to rise by 22%, from 36 million people today to 44 million in 2022, while the group occupying the lowest tier of the pyramid is expected to shrink only by 4%.

Non-financial wealth will slightly outpace financial wealth by around 1% annually in the next five years. Debt is also expected to grow at a faster pace than both financial and non-financial wealth in the coming years after a period of stability between 2007 and 2010. Household debt is expected to increase by 37% in the next five years to reach 15% of gross assets.

For a copy of the Global Wealth Report 2017, please visit:
Full information on sources and methodology is also provided in the Global Wealth Databook 2017.

About the CSRI Global Wealth Report

The eighth edition of the Global Wealth Report published by the Credit Suisse Research Institute provides the most comprehensive and up-to-date source of information available on global household wealth. Despite the significance of global household wealth for economic activity, data regarding both the level and the distribution of global household wealth is surprisingly incomplete. This report aims to bridge that gap by assembling a unique database that combines published information and the best available estimates where data does not exist. The Global Wealth Report is compiled from data on the wealth holdings of 4.8 billion adults across approximately 200 countries – from billionaires in the top echelon to the middle and bottom sections of the wealth pyramid, which other studies often overlook. The robust methodology, established over many years of analysis, provides transparent information on the Global Wealth Report’s underlying sources and their quality.

About the Credit Suisse Research Institute

The Credit Suisse Research Institute is Credit Suisse's in-house think tank. The Institute was established in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis with the objective of studying long-term economic developments, which have – or promise to have – a global impact within and beyond the financial services. Further information about the Credit Suisse Research Institute can be found at www.credit-suisse.com/researchinstitute.