Wild swings in global markets siphoned a combined $1 trillion from the fortunes of the ultrarich in 2018, unseating a record 430 billionaires.
According to China-based Hurun Institute’s annual ranking of the global rich, released Tuesday, the world now has 2,470 billionaires. Though 206 names moved onto the list last year, the tally represents a net loss of 224 billionaires – a widespread erosion of wealth.
“Poor stock market performances and an appreciating dollar were the main reasons for this year’s record drop in billionaires,” Rupert Hoogewerf, founder of the Hurun Institute, said in a statement. “Despite the strong dollar and its tax cuts, the USA added only 13 billionaires, but made it harder for the rest of the world to make the cut.”
China and the United States have tussled for economic dominance in recent years, with China surpassing the United States in billionaires for the first time in 2016. Collectively, the two nations boast half of all the world’s billionaires. But a trade war between them has stalled the most powerful engines of the global economy, fueling fears of a worldwide economic slowdown. In a recent survey, nearly 800 top business leaders around the world identified global recession as their biggest concern for 2019.
The fallout was most evident in China, where markets turned in their worst performance in four years, tumbling 25 percent, and its currency weakened. The slowdown comes on the heels of years of explosive economic growth. Last year China added a record 210 billionaires to the list; this year, it lost 161 – more than any other country – and gained just 52. Still, Greater China, which includes Taiwan and Hong Kong, remained the billionaire capital of the world, home to 658 of them. China also contributed the most newcomers on the list.
“Despite the slowdown in the Chinese economy, there is significant innovation going on,” Hoogewerf said in a statement. “China entrepreneurs have the advantage of scalability and a strong venture capital scene.”
China’s richest man, Jack Ma, founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba, grew his fortune by more than 20 percent to $39 billion last year, despite the turmoil in Chinese markets. Ma ranked 22 on the global list. But other Chinese heavyweights saw good portions of their wealth evaporate. Wang Jianlin, the founder of China’s largest real estate development company, watched his net worth sink 37 percent to $17 billion. The family behind home appliance maker Midea lost 34 percent of their wealth to tumbling stock prices.
The impact of the trade war on the United States was offset by tax cuts and tighter monetary policy by the Federal Reserve that boosted the strength of the dollar. Although last year was the worst year for U.S. stock markets in a decade, the nation still boasts the second-highest number of billionaires, with 584.
The top of the Hurun list is still dominated by Americans, with Amazon founder and chief executive Jeffrey. P Bezos topping the list for the second year in a row, with a net worth of $147 billion. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.) Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page all ranked in the top 10.
February has seen progress in U.S.-China trade talks. On Sunday, Trump said he would delay a scheduled increase in tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports to allow more time for negotiations. On Monday, Trump teased a possible agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping “fairly soon.” Trump is expected to host Jinping at Trump’s Florida estate late next month.
The Hurun list measures individual wealth as of Jan. 31 each year. Forty billionaires from last year’s list died in 2018.
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · Taylor Telford