The wealth of the world’s billionaires has surged by more than $2 trillion since the coronavirus pandemic began to reach an all-time high of $10.2 trillion.
The super-rich have been the big beneficiaries of the stock market rally from its March lows. Their total net worth rose by 27.5% between April and July to smash the previous record of $8.9 trillion set at the end of 2017. The number of billionaires has also grown from 2,158 in 2017 to 2,189.
These are the findings of the 2020 UBS/PwC Billionaire Insights report. The annual study calculated that billionaires’ fortunes had fallen by 6.6%, or $564 billion, to $8 trillion through 2019 and the first quarter of 2020, in the run-up to the coronavirus crisis.
The scale of the bounce-back has surprised even the most seasoned wealth watchers.
“Billionaires did extremely well during and after the crisis,” said Josef Stadler, head of UBS Global Wealth Management’s family office division.
Some did far better than others though, depending on which sectors their businesses operate in. The pandemic has rapidly accelerated technology adoption as millions work from home and companies increasingly move their operations onto the cloud. At the same time, vast resources have been poured into the hunt for a Covid-19 vaccine.
“What we’ve seen is a dramatic polarisation of fortunes. Billionaire innovators and disruptors in tech, healthcare, and industrials are fast and massively pulling ahead of the rest of the universe,” Stadler said.
This trend had been in evidence through 2018 and 2019, he added, but “Covid-19 has accelerated this divergence”. The numbers underline the pace of change and those classed as disruptors have led the way.
The wealth of industrial billionaires, which include Tesla
The divergent sector performance “demonstrates that [the assets of] billionaires are very much linked to equity markets”, said Marcel Tschanz, head of banking advisory at PwC Switzerland. It also highlights how billionaires’ wealth is “defined by the company they control”.
Few more so than Musk. He became only the fifth ever centibillionaire, albeit briefly, in August, after Tesla’s share price, and with it, his wealth, rose more than fourfold since March. August also saw the fortune of the planet’s richest man, Amazon
Recent blockbuster initial public offerings (IPOs) have also created a slew of super-rich newcomers. Cloud database company Snowflake’s stock market debut last month minted three new billionaires.
Zhong Huijhan, founder and CEO of Hansoh Pharmaceutical, became the world’s wealthiest healthcare billionaire when the business listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange last year. Her net worth has since grown by more than half to $20.4 billion after the demand for pharmaceuticals pushed Hansoh’s stock to new highs.
Billionaires’ wealth growth by region
The report shows that the U.S. remains by far the largest market for billionaire wealth, with $3.6 trillion residing in the country. Despite its tech dominance, American billionaires’ wealth increased at a below average 22% between April and July, however.
Billionaire wealth in mainland China rose 41% to $1.7 trillion, way ahead of Germany in third place with $594.9 billion.
The rise of China’s billionaire wealth continues to outstrip that of the rest of the world. The country’s super-rich have seen their fortunes increase by a staggering 1,146% since 2009, compared to a 170% rise for the American ultra-high net worth over the same period.
Russia follows Germany in the billionaire rich list, housing $467.6 billion, followed by France with $442.9 billion and India’s $356.1 billion. Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Brazil make up the rest of the top 10.