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Fortunes of the world’s wealthy on the rebound

Despite a reluctance to take up riskier assets and a lack of confidence in the equity markets, the world’s richest individuals saw their wealth grow 10% in 2012.

Despite a reluctance to take up riskier assets and a lack of confidence in the equity markets, the world’s richest individuals saw their wealth grow 10% in 2012, according to research released today by Capgemini and RBC Wealth Management.

This is in contrast to 2011 when the average investible wealth of high net worth individuals dropped 1.7%, and the sluggish 2.6% average growth seen since 2008.

The results of this year’s World Wealth Report reveal the investable wealth of HNWIs reached a record high of $46.2 trillion, and one million individuals joined the global HNW population taking it to 12 million. The Wealth Report defines a HNWI as someone with at least $1 million (€747,300) of investable assets.

Ultra high net worth individuals, those with $30 million or above, also saw their numbers and wealth grow by approximately 11% in nominal terms, following a decline in 2011.

Even in Europe, amid the region’s economic challenges, HNW individuals have seen their fortunes grow by 8.2% on average.

Latin America, which led growth in 2011, was the only region to falter in 2012 due to slow GDP growth and volatile equity markets.

North America – the US and Canada – has reclaimed its position as home to the largest population of HNW individuals, ahead of Asia-Pacific, which edged ahead in last year’s results. North America’s return may be short lived, however, with Asia-Pacific’s wealth forecast to grow 9.8% over the next three years – one and half times the expected global average of 6.5%.

Stuart Rutledge, head of RBC wealth management for the British Isles and Caribbean, said Hong Kong, India, Indonesia and China saw particularly strong growth in 2012, and he expected this to continue in the coming years.

Rutledge said strong economic policy in these countries would support strong equity and real estate markets.

In Europe, Rutledge explained, investor confidence improved and ultimately led to a market rally following a pledge by the European Central Bank in July to do whatever it took to protect the Eurozone from collapse.

Despite the growth in wealth, HNW individuals have taken a cautious approach to investment with a pronounced focus on wealth preservation. Almost 30% of wealth was held in cash and deposits last year.

Managing director of private client wealth at RBC, George King, said clients had been underinvested since 2008 – and this was similar across age groups, wealth levels and even risk profiles.

He said the differences that did exist were regional, so investors in the US were on average allocating only 21% to cash and 37% to equities – well in excess of the 26% global average. In contrast, Japanese investors were allocating almost 50% to cash.

King said the bank generally would not recommend the current levels of cash investment seen around the world, as it could make long-term goals difficult to achieve. He explained, however, that he still had some concerns about markets and economies, and so some amount of cash and conservatism was warranted.

The survey found 75% of HNW individuals were extremely confident their wealth would grow in the next year, and King said that could prompt investors to move out of cash and into more invested positions as a result. 

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