In 2000, the Rich Kept Getting Richer

The wealth of the world's wealthiest people rose 6 percent in 2000, despite drops in most stock markets, according to the World Wealth Report 2001, published by Merrill Lynch International & Co. and Cap Gemini SA's Cap Gemini Ernst & Young unit.

The number of high net-worth individuals around the world, those with assets of at least $1 million excluding real estate, grew by 2.9 percent, or 180,000, to 7.2 million people last year.

Those with financial assets of more than $30 million increased 6 percent to $8 trillion. The number of superrich rose 3 percent, to an estimated 57,000 people at the end of last year.

Christopher Humphrey, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young's president, said while the 6 percent growth in wealth in 2000 was down from the 18 percent increase in 1999, the combined wealth of all high net-worth individuals has tripled since 1986.

He added, "The World Wealth Report 2001 forecast growth of 8 percent a year for the high net-worth market over the next five years".

Europe posted the strongest growth in the number of wealthy individuals last year. The number of dollar millionaires in Europe grew 6 percent to 2.3 million. The value of their assets increased 7.5 percent to $7.2 trillion, a 26 percent share of worldwide high net-worth wealth.

According to the report, initially buoyant European bourses accounted for most of this rise. In addition, the average European millionaire had relatively low exposure to U.S. and Japanese equities.

By 2006, European millionaires are expected to own $10 trillion worth of assets.

The Middle East posted the strongest growth in the value of high net-worth wealth last year. There were an estimated 220,000 millionaires in the Middle East at the end of 2000, and the combined value of their wealth grew 18 percent, to $1.3 trillion, over the year. Five years from now, the total is projected to be $2 trillion.

Asia was the only region to post a decline in high net-worth wealth last year, dropping 9 percent. But the wealth held by Asian millionaires has increased by about 600 percent since 1986.

Barbara Wall, IHT, June 16-17, 2001