Marin Community Foundation
Billions – Asian Edition

Billionaire Boom: More of Them, With More Billions

Originally published by Brian Blackstone, Wall St Journal [link] on October 26, 2017

The world’s billionaires are richer, older and more sports-obsessed than ever.

Asia’s billionaires outnumbered those in the U.S. last year for the first time, driven by strong growth in China, according to a new report by Swiss banking giant UBS Group AG and global consulting and accounting firm PwC.

It was a banner year for the richest of the rich, with their total wealth up 17% in 2016 to $6 trillion after a slight decline in 2015, far exceeding the percentage increase in global equity markets and world economic growth.

The world’s ultrawealthy, led by Asia, have increasingly gobbled up professional-sports teams to invest some of their billions, as the soaring price of those franchises put them out of reach for mere megamillionaires.

The number of Asian billionaires increased by 117, or 23%, to 637 in 2016. In contrast, the ranks of U.S. billionaires rose by just 25, or 5%, to 563, according to the report. Europe’s billionaire ranks were little changed at 342.

“Three-quarters of the newly minted billionaires are from [Asia’s] two biggest economies—China and India,” the report said, with China adding a net 67 billionaires to 318 and India’s increasing by 16 to 100.

And in Asia, they are younger than most, with China’s billionaires averaging 55 years old, more than a decade younger than their U.S. and Europe counterparts. Globally, the average billionaire is 63 years old, up three years from two decades ago.

Despite the U.S. falling from the top spot, it still has the most wealth concentrated among billionaires at $2.8 trillion. But that may not last, either. UBS estimated that the total wealth of billionaires in Asia could surpass that of the U.S. in four years.

The figures in the report were based on a database of more than 1,500 billionaires.

The report also identified a new haven among the world’s billionaires: sports franchises, including soccer, baseball and basketball.

“According to our analysis, more than 140 of the top sports clubs globally are owned by just 109 billionaires,” the report said, with 60 coming from the U.S., 20 from Europe and 29 from Asia, which accounted for more than half of the sports-club purchases made by billionaires in the past two years.

“And owning a sports club is not for your fledgling billionaire—the average sports baron is 68 years old with a wealth of $5 billion,” the report said.

Two-thirds of U.S. basketball and football franchises are owned by billionaires, as are just under half of U.S. Premier League soccer clubs.

“As the price tags on sports clubs appreciate, often it’s only billionaires who have the financial firepower to buy them and make the necessary follow-on investments,” the report said.