Caixin
Oct 16, 2020 08:18 PM
BUSINESS & TECH

Chart of the Day: Even Amid Pandemic, China’s Billionaires Keep Getting Richer

China minted 145 new billionaires in the year to July, and the wealth of China’s billionaire class grew by one fifth, even as the coronavirus pandemic claimed lives, disrupted livelihoods and caused mass economic upheaval.

The Chinese mainland had a total of 415 billionaires by July, who held total wealth of $1.68 trillion, according to the annual Billionaires Insights report published this week by UBS and PwC. The firms said they would not release the list of billionaires.

A record $10.2 trillion was concentrated in the hands of the world’s 2,189 billionaires as of July, up from the previous peak of $8.9 trillion held by 2,158 billionaires in 2017.

The figures give lie to a familiar refrain of the pandemic era — that Covid-19 is a disease which affects all equally, and from whom nobody is safe.

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The pandemic did prompt the world's wealthiest individuals to give a "record-breaking" amount of philanthropic donations between March and July, with 209 billionaires publicly committing a combined total of 7.2 billion, or an average of $35 million each, in financial donations, goods, equipment, and other support. “[The] public announcements understate the true amount donated, given a tendency toward discretion,” the report said.

Over the past decade, the number of billionaires around the world more than doubled from 969 at the end of 2009, and their total wealth more than tripled. Chinese billionaires’ wealth grew by almost nine times — the fastest clip in Asia.

However, even the great silos of cash held by the world’s richest people could not insulate them all from the effects of coronavirus. Those with wealth concentrated in the tech, healthcare, entertainment and media sectors, who were already pulling ahead of the pack, saw their gains accelerated by Covid-19, outstripping those in commodities and real estate in what the researchers characterized as a “polarization” trend that began a few years ago.

That does not seem to have dented the fondness for property investment among the world’s wealthy elite, who still have a “love affair with (property) as a store of value and an asset that can be transferred to successors.”

As a long term trend, the Asia Pacific’s real estate tycoons saw their average wealth more than triple over the past 10 years, compared with the doubling fortunes of their U.S. peers.

A separate PwC survey found around half of all billionaires, regardless of the source of their money, had between one and two fifths of their net wealth invested in property, lured by falling interest rates and high demand for physical space.

Of those individuals worth $2 billion or more in 2009, 153 have since lost their status, with half of that figure “dropping out” in the past couple of years.

Globally, the greatest concentration of wealth is among tech billionaires, with their number growing from 68 in 2009 to 234 in 2020, while the count of healthcare billionaires grew from 48 to 167 over the same period. Both categories saw their buckets of cash multiply by a factor of four, to $1.3 trillion for tech and to $482.9 billion for healthcare.

Contact reporter Flynn Murphy (flynnmurphy@caixin.com) and editor Gavin Cross (gavincross@caixin.com)

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